insanity, incredulity, and media bias.
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  • September 18, 2020

If you’re any­thing like me, when you watch this, you’ll be forced to mar­vel at the absolute insan­ity of the whole thing.

Dr. Robert R. Redfield, MD was a colonel in the US Army, has a dis­tin­guished career as a physi­cian, med­ical researcher, and pub­lic health expert. One of his pri­mary areas of expe­ri­ence and exper­tise is virol­ogy and immunol­ogy, and he has years of expe­ri­ence study­ing the treat­ment of infec­tious dis­ease in clin­i­cal set­tings. He held a tenured pro­fes­sor­ship in the med­ical school of a highly-respected American uni­ver­sity, and has served in numer­ous advi­sory roles to a wide range of fed­eral gov­ern­ment agen­cies. All that was before Donald Trump appointed him to be the direc­tor of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the admin­is­tra­tor of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

In that role, Dr. Redfield recently advised a Senate panel that even with an opti­mistic vac­cine time­line, the gen­eral pub­lic would not be inoc­u­lated until the sum­mer or fall of 2021. He also told them that masks could be a more effec­tive pro­tec­tion against COVID-19 than the vac­cine. If it was­n’t clear from that para­graph above about his back­ground, this guy isn’t just a doc­tor. He’s a respected virol­o­gist, a promi­nent expert on the clin­i­cal treat­ment of infec­tious dis­ease, and the head of a gov­ern­ment agency — chock-full of infec­tious dis­ease experts — whose whole pur­pose is to pro­tect pub­lic health and safety through the con­trol and pre­ven­tion of dis­ease. That’s the guy who pro­vided clear, con­cise, and well-informed answers to a Senate panel on the antic­i­pated avail­abil­ity of a vac­cine and on the med­ical effi­cacy of face masks.

After Redfield’s state­ments got con­sid­er­able media atten­tion, Donald Trump told reporters, “I believe he was con­fused” and insisted a vac­cine could be avail­able in weeks and go “imme­di­ately” to the gen­eral pub­lic. And he claimed (with usual Trump con­fi­dence) that a “vac­cine is much more effec­tive than the masks.”

I get that Trump’s sup­port­ers believe he’s a great leader. I get that they’re pre­pared to over­look his moral fail­ings, that they don’t see him as a liar because it appears to them that the folks relent­lessly accus­ing him of lying have an obvi­ous axe to grind. Sure… that sort of think­ing is evi­dence of a hyper-par­ti­san com­mit­ment to the MAGA move­ment and as such defies some ratio­nal­ity and logic… I’m just say­ing I get it.

But what I don’t get — what’s absolutely breath­tak­ing to me — is the idea that any­one believes Donald Trump when he stands in front of reporters and says with a straight face that Dr. Robert R. Redfield, MD “was con­fused.” Even if you like him, this is a guy who has had trou­ble pro­nounc­ing the word ‘Yosemite’ and who has said (on tape!) that his pref­er­ence is to present a pos­i­tive, opti­mistic out­look in his pub­lic state­ments about the pan­demic (and that’s a gen­er­ous read of his com­ments to Woodward). That guy, who hap­pens to be run­ning for re-elec­tion and there­for has a clear inter­est in pre­sent­ing him­self suc­cess­fully lead­ing national efforts to defeat the pan­demic, is telling you to believe his own assess­ment instead of believ­ing the “con­fused” offi­cial state­ments of the respected physi­cian, virol­o­gist, and pub­lic health expert (that he appointed!).

I really do mean the word “breath­tak­ing” — it lit­er­ally takes my breath away when I try to wrap my head around the fact that any­one is inclined to believe Trump when they hear him say these things. Understanding how this guy is still a viable can­di­date for any pub­lic office either requires seri­ous men­tal gym­nas­tics or is cause for deep depres­sion. (Or it’s both.)

Here’s my take­away: There can’t be a bet­ter illus­tra­tion of our coun­try’s bro­ken­ness than watch­ing John Berman and CNN be accused of unfair­ness, bias, and par­ti­san­ship for point­ing out that the direc­tor of the CDC, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, MD, is a reli­able expert on vac­cines and pub­lic health pol­icy and that Donald J. Trump is not.

the wrongness that won’t go away.
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  • May 5, 2018

From yes­ter­day’s Washington Post: One space between each sen­tence, they said.  Science just proved them wrong.

Some reac­tions:

The Headline is Stupid

As has become com­mon­place, the head­line is a lit­tle overzeal­ous. The sci­en­tists behind the study prob­a­bly would­n’t use such strong lan­guage, and the rest of the arti­cle is a lit­tle more cau­tious in the lan­guage it uses when draw­ing con­clu­sions from the research.

They Used Courier New

The researchers used a fixed-width/­mono­space type­face. To say that misses the point is an under­state­ment. Even most of us one-space zealots admit that two spaces makes sense for mono­space type.

One of the study’s authors says it’s still rea­son­able to infer from this that their results would also apply to pro­por­tional type, but her rea­son­ing only makes sense if you don’t under­stand how fonts work, or the real rea­son one space makes more sense:

…the point of dou­ble-spac­ing is to make up for how mono­space type looks weird and janky.
It’s about aesthetics.

Habits are Important

The “ben­e­fits” of two spaces after a period were only observed in study par­tic­i­pants who… wait for it… are peo­ple who usu­ally type two spaces them­selves. Maybe they did­n’t actu­ally learn any­thing about typog­ra­phy or font leg­i­bil­ity, but rather about peo­ple being stuck in their own habits.

The Article is Beautifully Formatted

Major kudos to the Post arti­cle’s author, Avi Selk, and to who­ever was respon­si­ble for for­mat­ting the online ver­sion. The piece uses a mono­space font and all sorts of crazy spac­ing tricks to lit­er­ally show instead of just tell. It’s thought­ful, cre­ative, and very effective.

(And you gotta love the note at the end, which is — iron­i­cally enough — a nail in the cof­fin of the two-space argu­ment: “Note: An ear­lier ver­sion of this story pub­lished incor­rectly because, seri­ously, putting two spaces in the head­line broke the web code.”)

In Conclusion…

Sorry, but the “sci­ence” does­n’t prove any­thing here. Lifehacker’s take on this is right on: “No, You Still Shouldn’t Put Two Spaces After a Period.

adhd, hyperfocus, sleep. be vigilant.
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  • January 22, 2018

Though it’s some­times called a “super­power,” hyper­fo­cus is a clas­sic chal­lenge for adults with ADHD, and it’s par­tic­u­larly prob­lem­atic when it’s detri­men­tal to sleep.

I’ve men­tioned my ADHD here before, but I’ve been reluc­tant to share any­thing par­tic­u­larly spe­cific or per­sonal about it because, well, I’ve kind of felt like it was no one else’s business.

There’s a part of me that always thought shar­ing more would be ben­e­fi­cial, since there’s so much mis­in­for­ma­tion out there, and the only way to help peo­ple under­stand is to actu­ally help them under­stand. Also, though I’m not inter­ested in turn­ing this space into a stand-in for ther­apy, it’s clear that there’s a poten­tial for per­sonal ben­e­fit in pro­cess­ing my own thoughts and strug­gles in writing.

This all occurred to me when an arti­cle crit­i­cal of Gary Vaynerchuk’s philoso­phies on work appeared in my Medium feed. Though it was­n’t writ­ten about ADHD at all, I read it through that lens. (Because: That’s my lens. Or, rather, that’s one of my lenses.)

I don’t think I’d ever heard of “Gary Vee” before read­ing the arti­cle, and every­thing I know about him is from the reading/Googling I did after read­ing it. So my reac­tions here aren’t so much to him, since I don’t really know any­thing about him, his world­view, or the advice he gives peo­ple about busi­ness, work, and success.

The arti­cle on Medium, “Gary Vaynerchuk is Trying to Kill You,” is a reac­tion to a state­ment from Vaynerchuk, from his book, Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion:

turn water into wine

Here’s the deal: if you want it badly enough, the money is there, the suc­cess is there, and the ful­fill­ment is there. All you have to do is take it. So quit whin­ing, quit cry­ing, quit with the excuses. If you already have a full-time job, you can get a lot done between 7:00 P.M. and 2:00 A.M. (9:00 P.M. to 3:00 A.M. if you’ve got kids), so learn to love work­ing dur­ing those predawn hours. I promise it won’t be hard if you’re doing what you love more…

The arti­cle’s author, Jon Westenberg, argues that the behav­ior described above is prob­lem­atic because sleep is so important.

But I read it and thought to myself: Wow. That’s an incred­i­ble descrip­tion of self-destruc­tive ADHD behavior.

To explain what I mean, we need to start by clar­i­fy­ing the com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that ADHD is about not being able to pay atten­tion. That’s not at all what it is — and that mis­con­cep­tion is per­haps the most prob­lem­atic way in which the gen­eral pub­lic mis­un­der­stands ADHD, espe­cially in adults.

Rather than not being able to pay atten­tion, adults with ADHD have trou­ble reg­u­lat­ing their atten­tion. (You might say it’s a “mald­is­tri­b­u­tion of atten­tion.”)

ADHD is a dis­or­der of the brain’s exec­u­tive func­tion­ing abil­i­ties, among them “orga­niz­ing, pri­or­i­tiz­ing and acti­vat­ing for tasks.” That means there’s a prob­lem in the part of the brain that can (among other things) dif­fer­en­ti­ate between tasks and activ­i­ties related to long-term (delayed grat­i­fi­ca­tion) goals and those that lead to imme­di­ate stimulation.

And though “stim­u­la­tion” can mean the kind you might think — like what comes from caf­feine, sex, exer­cise, action movies, get­ting lots of likes on Facebook — it actu­ally means any­thing that releases copi­ous amounts dopamine. And a task that keeps that flow of happy hor­mones flow­ing for awhile by pro­vid­ing legit intel­lec­tual stim­u­la­tion… well, that’s just the ticket for the ADHD brain.

So: Working on an excit­ing and inter­est­ing new work project does the trick. That’s why adults with ADHD actu­ally have no prob­lem pay­ing atten­tion to tasks that are stim­u­lat­ing to their brains (at least in that moment). In fact, one com­mon char­ac­ter­is­tic of ADHD is the ten­dency to go into a state of “hyper­fo­cus,” in which we’re able to ded­i­cate total and com­plete atten­tion to a task.

It’s a euphoric expe­ri­ence of com­pletely los­ing your­self in some­thing. For me, it tends to be cre­ative projects. I find myself in a state of rec­og­niz­able hap­pi­ness when I immerse myself in the details of graphic design or well-orga­nized CSS, find­ing a sense of “flow” (see: Csikszentmihalyi) and “one-ness” with the artis­tic endeavor. (There’s a rea­son some peo­ple say that this aspect of ADHD is a “super­power.”)

But that eupho­ria is short lived when we finally snap out of hyper­fo­cus to real­ize we’d totally lost track of time and must deal with the con­se­quences of neglect­ing all those other tasks that needed to get done.

The prob­lem with hav­ing an inabil­ity to direct or man­age our atten­tion is that we go right to the most “stimulating”/interesting/exciting task, skip­ping right over the step where we stop and ask whether that’s the right task to be doing at that moment, or whether the time we’re spend­ing on that task is con­sis­tent with its importance.

(And even if we don’t skip that step and are able to rec­og­nize — cog­ni­tively — that there are more impor­tant things that need to get done, we have immense trou­ble bring­ing our­selves to get started on those more-impor­tant-but-less-stim­u­lat­ing things.)

All of that is just back­ground. And though I’d usu­ally be care­ful not to take so long to get to the point, I think it’s impor­tant con­text for my reac­tion to that book excerpt.

Working Late is a Very Bad Idea

For an adult with ADHD, Gary Vaynerchuk’s advice is extremely attrac­tive. And it’s also a recipe for disaster.

I say that for a two reasons.

1. Hyperfocus Run Amok

The idea of using the late-night hours to work — when every­one else is asleep and there’s noth­ing else demand­ing your atten­tion — is a per­fect tech­nique for falling into a state of hyper­fo­cus. For some­one capa­ble of focus­ing their atten­tion with inten­tion­al­ity, I sup­pose that could be a good thing, since hav­ing the time and quiet to focus on oth­er­wise-back­burner projects is an attrac­tive oppor­tu­nity. But if you can’t direct your focus, a quiet and unin­ter­rupted stretch of time means you can eas­ily spend those early morn­ing hours on unim­por­tant tasks.

When I was a (very nerdy) teenager, that meant spend­ing a whole night apply­ing per­fect seman­tic HTML (with inter­tex­tual hyper­link­ing) to a com­plete data­base down­loaded in plain­text from some sci-fi bul­letin board that listed every ship to ever appear or be men­tioned in Star Trek, TNG, and DS9 (well… the first sea­son of DS9). Sure — I taught myself HTML in the process and I under­stood the value of seman­tic markup before it was hip to talk about. If I’d actu­ally stayed com­mit­ted and kept learn­ing, it would have been a use­ful endeavor. But I barely looked at HTML again until after col­lege (and I fell out of love with Star Trek some­time mid-Voyager), and in the mean­time, I was a ninth grader who wanted to be a jour­nal­ist and I was barely pass­ing English. Had I maybe spent just a lit­tle of that time doing a small per­cent­age of my home­work, it would have been beneficial.

(I’m not say­ing the quiet night­time was dan­ger­ous because my par­ents weren’t there to nag me to do my home­work. The prob­lem is that the lack of reg­u­lar activ­ity around me — noise, light, move­ment, peo­ple ask­ing me ques­tions, the sound of some­one snack­ing in the kitchen, the sound of the TV in the other room — meant that it was espe­cially easy to slip into an espe­cially deep state of hyper­fo­cus. Could I slip into it despite all those dis­trac­tions? Definitely, if the task proved to be so stim­u­lat­ing that I could shut out every­thing else. But a list­ing of every obscure space­ship ever uttered in filler dia­log by Denise Crosby or Jonathan Frakes would prob­a­bly have not sucked me in quite so deep dur­ing reg­u­lar wak­ing hours.)

2. Sleep is Too Important, and Not Sleeping Enough is Too Disastrous

hyperfocus staying awakeThere are some experts who’ve made the claim that ADHD is, at its core, a sleep dis­or­der. I’m not sure if that’s true — it’s not the pre­vail­ing main­stream opin­ion — but it’s based on the notion that ADHD is related, per­haps on a pretty deep level, to sleep dysfunction.

I won’t get into the details, mostly because I’m not an expert and I don’t think I under­stand all the intri­ca­cies. But the sim­pli­fied ver­sion is that sleep is an issue for adults with ADHD. We tend to sleep weird hours, don’t nec­es­sar­ily always get “good” sleep, stay awake later than we should, have trou­ble wak­ing up in the morn­ing, and when we do wake up we strug­gle to tran­si­tion from sleep to true wake­ful­ness. And com­mon ADHD med­ica­tions can be a dou­ble-edged sword in this regard, since stim­u­lants can be help­ful in many ways, but just a slight mis-dosage or mis-tim­ing can severely throw off your sleep schedule.

It’s also clear that one par­tic­u­larly effec­tive strat­egy for man­ag­ing adult ADHD is to get reg­u­lar, ade­quate, rest­ful, restora­tive sleep.

On the other hand, when we don’t get decent sleep, we tend to have a much harder time man­ag­ing all the chal­lenges that come with ADHD, even if we’re aided by med­ica­tion, coach­ing, ther­apy, what­ever. ADHD mixed with inad­e­quate sleep leads to a down­ward spiral.

Be Vigilant About Hyperfocus and Sleep, or You’ll Find Yourself Stuck in an ADHD Hole

So the notion that it’s a good idea to stay up late, get­ting a few hours less sleep in order to focus on “work” — which is so attrac­tive to adults with ADHD since we have a deep, physical/chemical attrac­tion to the eupho­ria of hyper­fo­cus — has the poten­tial to be ruinous because those few hours of sleep are just too valuable.

I don’t blame Vaynerchuk for it. For folks with­out ADHD, his sug­ges­tion to get work done in the “predawn hours” may or may not be good advice. (Though Westenberg  is prob­a­bly right that it’s not.)

Rather, my point is that those of us with ADHD have to be vig­i­lant to resist the draw of atti­tudes like this one, since this think­ing can cause so much dam­age. For adults with ADHD — at least for this adult with ADHD — that dam­age means you can find your­self in a deep hole out of which it’s tough to climb.

make it stop.
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  • November 6, 2017

A guy shot up a church in Texas today. Same shit, dif­fer­ent day. Sigh.

If you’re pissed about the gun con­trol debate (or lack thereof), sick of politi­cians who pray for the vic­tims but don’t do any­thing to pre­vent it from hap­pen­ing again, dis­gusted by the polar­iza­tion of pub­lic dis­course in our country…

Stop post­ing about it on Facebook. You’re mak­ing it worse. We’re mak­ing it worse.

Because here’s the thing (and you know this): You’re typ­ing into an echo cham­ber. No one who mat­ters can hear you. Your heart­felt rant, your clever-yet-sad state­ments about politi­cians’ inabil­ity to act, or your tear­ful pleas about the tragedy of AR-15s… the only peo­ple read­ing them are peo­ple who already agree with you.

And it’s prob­a­bly worse than that. The more we all post this kind of stuff, the bet­ter Facebook’s algo­rithm gets at mak­ing sure we don’t inter­act with any­one who dis­agrees. Every time we do this, we widen the chasm between red and blue, and we help foment the very things that are destroy­ing America.

And while it’s easy to blame Facebook, let’s be hon­est with our­selves. We’re the ones killing our democ­racy. Because we eat this stuff up. We love hav­ing our own feel­ings val­i­dated, our opin­ions affirmed, our world­views con­firmed to be correct.

But if you want this mad­ness to stop, if you want to actu­ally do some­thing about the evil mad­man in the White House, if you care about gun leg­is­la­tion and women’s right to choose about their own bod­ies and an econ­omy that doesn’t just serve the rich and people’s right to marry whomever they love… don’t post about it on Facebook. When we do, we’re not just wast­ing our breath. We’re mak­ing it all worse by dig­ging our­selves deeper into our trenches. We’re giv­ing Trump and the Russians and Fox News and InfoWars fer­tile ground to sow mis­trust and dis­unity and polarization.

Instead, go out and talk to some­one who does­n’t share your views. Write checks to can­di­dates in con­tested dis­tricts, or vol­un­teer your time to make phone calls for them. Go to a gun store and learn some­thing about these things you want to ban but that so much of this coun­try can’t stop buy­ing. Run for office. Just what­ever you do… stop fuel­ing the echo chamber.

(As for me, from now on Facebook is for snarky com­ments about sports, adorable pic­tures of my kids, and giv­ing tech advice to friends. No more pol­i­tics. Because I can’t trust Facebook’s algo­rithms not to screw up our coun­try even more and I refuse to be a part of it.)

mendoza makes espn’s baseball broadcast watchable.
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  • July 29, 2017

Doug Glanville on Jessica Mendoza in today’s NYTimes:

I root for Mendoza’s suc­cess because her jour­ney inspires me, and many oth­ers, to think opti­misti­cally about what we can over­come despite the stereo­types attrib­uted to our demo­graphic boxes.

As a viewer, I value some­one smart, insight­ful, and ana­lyt­i­cal above some dude who played for awhile. Obviously, they’re not mutu­ally exclu­sive, and in the purest form of the two- or three-per­son broad­cast team, there’s enough of both insight/analysis and expe­ri­ence that they com­ple­ment each other. But too often that bal­ance is off, and too few base­ball talk­ing heads are smart enough to inform any­one but the most casual fan.

Mendoza has raised the level of ESPN’s broad­cast so as to (a) make it watch­able (since she ups the qual­ity of the ban­ter, gen­er­ally); and (b) fre­quently add nuance to my under­stand­ing of the game.

That lat­ter part isn’t because she has Glanville’s expe­ri­ence with Wrigley’s out­field — because she does­n’t — but because she shows up bet­ter-pre­pared than any­one. In that way, it seems her expe­ri­ence as a jour­nal­ist is far more impor­tant than her time win­ning medals for USA Softball. She’s able to tell us what scouts are say­ing about a pitcher, or how a play­er’s been try­ing to work counts bet­ter, or how a man­ager and GM came to make ros­ter deci­sions. She respects her audi­ence enough to have taken the time to do her home­work, so she has some­thing of value to share with us. (To Glanville’s point, she’s very Scully-like in this way.)

I don’t think that, as a bar­rier-break­ing woman, she’s try­ing to be smarter or bet­ter-informed than her col­leagues in the booth. Rather, I think she just is those things because that’s who she is, and I’m glad to read that at least one of those col­leagues does­n’t feel threat­ened or inse­cure about it.

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  • July 9, 2017

On Friday, I learned of the death of Jonathan Woocher, PhD.

Over the years, I’ve had mul­ti­ple oppor­tu­ni­ties to learn with Jon. He always was incred­i­bly kind to me, and even when we dis­agreed, or when some­one in a work­shop chal­lenged him — usu­ally on his take on some recent trend or another — he was never dis­mis­sive and always gen­er­ous. And if he felt his own side needed defend­ing, he always did so with intel­lec­tual rigor and humil­ity. I’m grate­ful and hon­ored to count him among my teach­ers. (And I can’t imag­ine I’ll ever stop feel­ing pangs of jeal­ousy for his job title, pos­si­bly the best in the field, if not of all time.)

What oth­ers have said is true: Jewish edu­ca­tion is stronger due to his intel­lect and thought-lead­er­ship, both of which will be missed. I’d only add that his men­schlekheit will be missed, too.

Baruch Dayan haEmet.

canon needs to get with the program.
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  • June 18, 2017

Canon Rumors (canon​rumors​.com) says the new EOS 6D Mk II will be lim­ited to 1080p video. It’ll have some upgrades — Bluetooth, a new image proces­sor, 45 aut­o­fo­cus points — and it’ll cost $1999.

Sorry, but Canon should (and prob­a­bly will) get slammed for this. To release a $2,000 (body only!) cam­era in 2017 that does­n’t do 4k is just inex­cus­able. For that kind of money you could buy impres­sive cam­era hard­ware from sev­eral other man­u­fac­tur­ers that per­forms vir­tu­ally as well for still pho­tog­ra­phy and shoots video in 4k… more than two years ago. Canon can keep insist­ing on ship­ping devices that are clearly focused on either photo or video. And that might fly for pro equip­ment, where that kind of focus pays div­i­dends. But the 6D is a con­sumer (or maybe a pro-sumer) cam­era, and as such it has to com­pete with Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, Olympus, and Fuji. All of them have fig­ured out 4k for cam­eras at this price point, and Canon should, too. End of story.

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  • May 18, 2017

Roger Ailes died today. I don’t rejoice at any­one’s death, but I won’t be shed­ding any tears.

By using his pow­ers of manip­u­la­tion, Ailes infected our polit­i­cal dis­course with intensely deep cyn­i­cism, dis­re­gard for facts and respect­ful dia­logue, and dis­re­spect for edu­ca­tion, diver­sity, and under­stand­ing. Though he is surely not sin­gu­larly respon­si­ble, he was a pri­mary archi­tect of the dischord and dis­unity that per­me­ates our national con­ver­sa­tion. And he did it all for his own polit­i­cal and mon­e­tary gain.

He was not a patriot. He was a trai­tor. He sold out our country.

He hated almost every­thing America stands for. He hated Americans. And he hated women.

Though I don’t cel­e­brate his death, I won’t for­get the dis­gust­ing legacy he leaves behind. May we always shud­der when we hear his name, a last­ing reminder of just how much dam­age a sin­gle per­son can do to our country.

banning immigrants is un-American. it’s also bad policy.
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  • January 31, 2017

I attended Saturday’s protest at SFO against Trump’s anti-Muslim exec­u­tiver order, which is where I shot the photo above.

Labeeb Ali worked as an inter­preter for Americans in Iraq. That means he is a tar­get for anti-American groups.

For that rea­son, law­mak­ers in the US made it pos­si­ble for him to move here, pro­vid­ing the visa which allows him to leave the dan­ger of Iraq, a dan­ger mag­ni­fied immensely by his asso­ci­a­tion with Americans. So he has passed months of back­ground checks, acquired that visa, has a cur­rent pass­port (not always easy in his part of the world), and he had a plane ticket on a flight from Qatar to Dallas. Once his visa appli­ca­tion cleared and his plans solid­i­fied, he tied up loose ends in Iraq and sold vir­tu­ally all of his property.

Thanks to the president’s indis­crim­i­nate, irra­tional, and quite pos­si­bly ille­gal exec­u­tive order, Labeeb Ali was not allowed to board his flight.

Because the pres­i­dent couldn’t be both­ered to con­sult with gov­ern­ment agen­cies who know some­thing about these issues or to take the time to develop immi­gra­tion pol­icy that has a chance to achieve his pur­ported goals, his exec­u­tive order blocks any­one — regard­less of cir­cum­stance — from seven Muslim coun­tries from enter­ing the US. And that includes peo­ple like Labeeb Ali.

Never mind that if this man actu­ally were a ter­ror­ist, he has already had ample oppor­tu­nity to com­mit heinous attacks on large groups of Americans. And never mind that he faces a very real threat of vio­lence from ter­ror­ists, trag­i­cally ironic con­sid­er­ing he’s being pre­vented from enter­ing the US because Trump and his sup­port­ers claim ban­ning him is nec­es­sary to pre­vent acts of ter­ror­ism. Trump doesn’t care that this man is about as far from a ter­ror­ist as some­one can be. Because he can’t be both­ered to tell the dif­fer­ence between ter­ror­ists and all Muslims. They all look alike to him.

Trump picked seven Muslim coun­tries where he doesn’t have busi­ness inter­ests, and where we don’t have par­tic­u­larly deep diplo­matic ties that could gum up the sim­ple black-and-white of his plan. He banned immi­gra­tion because his sup­port­ers are scared of “Islamic extrem­ism,” though they aren’t con­cerned with how it might be a threat, nor do they want to be both­ered with real­is­tic solu­tions for pre­vent­ing an attack on our soil. No… Trump just needed to show them that he’s keep­ing the Muslims out, as promised.

But here’s the thing: Our coun­try made promises and com­mit­ments to folks like Labeeb Ali. It’s dis­gust­ing and dis­hon­or­able to leave them hang­ing — per­haps lit­er­ally, it’s sad to say — because they’re in the way of Trump’s steam-roller of exec­u­tive orders.

But it’s going to get worse. The word’s going to get around that America turned its back on com­mit­ments to peo­ple like Labeeb Ali. When Trump decides to send troops to fight ISIS, they’re going to have a hard time find­ing peo­ple will­ing to put their lives on the line to help Americans for a promise that they can reset­tle state­side. And that’s a real­ity that could very well cost American lives.

In the mean­time, it’s a real­ity that is hurt­ing peo­ple who deserve much bet­ter than the closed doors with which we’re greet­ing them.

They have killed my dream,” Labeeb Ali told The Washington Post. “They took it all away from me, in the last minutes.”

getting by with a little help.
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  • January 29, 2017

Sometimes the pres­i­dent needs help sign­ing his name, so he’s hired the ghost of George Harrison to help.

(I know. You did­n’t think it was George Harrison at first. It’s con­fus­ing because at first glance it does look a lot like Eric Clapton in the pic­ture. Common mis­take. It’s def­i­nitely Harrison.)

[h/t Phil]

my (totally unoriginal) <em>rogue one</em> reaction.
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  • December 23, 2016

I used to go to a lot of movies, mostly because I really like movie the­atre pop­corn. Since kids, I get to two or three movies each year, at least in the the­atre. I’m not sure what the last movie I saw in the the­atre was, but it might have been Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Though I loved that movie, I also felt like they spread on the just-for-nos­tal­gia pieces a lit­tle too thick, and that there were entire scenes, and char­ac­ters, and even aspects of the nar­ra­tive that seemed to serve no larger pur­pose other than to evoke fond mem­o­ries of a time when Star Wars existed but Jar Jar Binks did not.

And in that case, I did­n’t mind the nos­tal­gia that much for three rea­sons: First, it had been awhile since we had seen the Millenium Falcon, Han, Leia, Chewy, and Luke. We wanted to see them and feel reas­sured that the fran­chise was back on track after the dis­as­ter of eps. 1–3. Second, The Force Awakens was the first of a tril­ogy, and as such I’m ok that it gave in to that nos­tal­gic indul­gence because it felt like it was estab­lish­ing itself — a new tril­ogy from a new direc­tor telling a new story — lay­ing the ground­work so that the next films don’t have to be so overtly referential/deferential. Third, the Star Wars films (by which I mean, eps. 4–6) were never par­tic­u­larly sub­tle or mys­te­ri­ous in their allu­sions to each other, ref­er­ences to clas­si­cal motifs, and will­ing­ness to use cheese and even camp. So I felt like Abrams’ over-indul­gence in nos­tal­gia was for­giv­able from a film that was so much about estab­lish­ing the con­nec­tion to the ear­lier series.

I almost felt the same way about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In fact, I felt even bet­ter about it — that the nar­ra­tive and the film­mak­ing were ref­er­en­tial and def­er­en­tial while at the same time mak­ing much of the oppor­tu­nity pre­sented by being just a lit­tle out­side of the main, (dare-I-say) sacred core storyline.

And then the last shot happened.

(If you haven’t seen it and you don’t want me to ruin the worst, most crap­tac­u­lar sur­prise ever… stop read­ing now.)

My prob­lem is the car­toon­ish CGI/live-action mashup of a cer­tain beloved char­ac­ter, and the fact it was visu­ally dis­so­nant (not to men­tion creepy-looking).

But my prob­lem is also that it ruined the tone of an oth­er­wise solid third act. The nar­ra­tive arc had done its job: hav­ing sat on the edge of their seats for the entirety of the final bat­tle, the audi­ence watches in delight and hor­ror as a cav­al­cade of heroes over­come an almost-impos­si­ble series of cir­cum­stances in order to set in motion the well-estab­lished hero­ism of Episode 4 (and beyond), only to face the inevitably of death with the cer­tainty that the sac­ri­fice was worth it. That final act — right up to and includ­ing the anony­mous hero­ism of Vader’s light saber vic­tims pass­ing the thumb drive (that’s what it was, right?) along to its obvi­ous even­tual recip­i­ent — draws on the oper­atic essence of Lucas’ orig­i­nals, while at the same time inhab­it­ing a darker, more real­ist sen­si­bil­ity in which even hon­or­able death is hor­ri­ble and sad. The film was suc­ceed­ing. We were there. I had­n’t closed my mouth or sat back in my chair in 20 or 30 or how­ever many min­utes it was.

And here’s the thing: we all know what’s going to hap­pen with those Death Star plans. We don’t need remind­ing. And in case we do (even though we don’t), Jimmy Smits announces that he’ll send some­one he trusts on a mis­sion to find a cer­tain desert-dwelling Jedi in hid­ing — a female some­one based on his pro­noun choice — and since pretty much the only thing (rel­e­vant) we know about his char­ac­ter is that he’s Leia’s adopted father, we know exactly who some­one is.

At that point, with the Death Star plans on a ship that we’ve seen before, about to be in the hands of the per­son we know will put them into a cer­tain short and beepy droid, the film could have ended. We’d seen what we needed to see. Of course, over­stat­ing the obvi­ous is a hall­mark of this fran­chise, so the story had to go one scene further.

They still could have pulled this off with­out ruin­ing the movie. They could have shown the back of a female char­ac­ter garbed in white, and we could have even heard her voice. The cam­era did­n’t need to show her face. We did­n’t even need entirely orig­i­nal dia­logue — our about-to-be hero­ine could have been prepar­ing (or even begin­ning to record) her mes­sage to Obi Wan, tak­ing us right up to the scene where we met her in 1977 (or when­ever we were old enough to meet her for the first time).

But the scene we got instead was trou­bling on mul­ti­ple levels.

Most obvi­ously, the visual effect did­n’t work. No mat­ter how well Disney’s dig­i­tal artists can  pull off their CGI magic — and they deserve credit for all the ways they suc­ceeded in this movie — there was no way we were going to feel good about an ani­mated ver­sion of a char­ac­ter who we first meet moments later (time­line-wise) as a flesh-and-blood actress ren­dered on actual film. I won’t bela­bor this point as it has been well-trod­den by review­ers, and because I sup­pose the degree to which the (semi-)animated char­ac­ter was (not) effec­tive could be a mat­ter of opin­ion. I mean, I sup­posed some­one could have felt like it did­n’t look hor­ren­dous. ((Of course, no one sane would think that. But I imag­ine it’s pos­si­ble that some aes­thet­i­cally mis­guided and/or very men­tally-ill per­son could.))

Second, I take issue with Leia being played by any­one other than Carrie Fisher. Sure… if they ever want to show her at an ear­lier stage in life then I’m ok with a young actress play­ing the part — peo­ple change over time and I could live with the idea that a well-cast young Leia grows up to become Carrie Fisher’s por­trayal. But Rogue One’s Leia is not a younger Leia. This is the Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan we know, trav­el­ing on the very ship and wear­ing the very dress she was wear­ing when we first met her, and on the very mis­sion where she hides the Death Star plans on R2 and stands up to (our first encounter with) Darth Vader. That Leia will always be played by Carrie Fisher, and I can­not accept any other por­trayal of her, even one ani­mated to bear an uncanny resem­blance to Her Highness, daugh­ter of Anakin Skywalker and future gen­eral of the Resistance (and future wearer of metal­lic swimwear).

Third, car­toon Leia’s dia­logue is unfor­giv­able. The film is, up to that point, about sac­ri­fice. And in forc­ing us to watch its pro­tag­o­nists’ deaths one after another, it puts a fine point on it. Truly tyran­ni­cal evil can­not be defeated by self-inter­ested indi­vid­u­als (like the cow­ardly rebel lead­ers who ini­tially balk at the idea of going after the Death Star plans). Rather, the Dark Side’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity is only exposed — lit­er­ally in this case — when peo­ple come together, set­ting aside their indi­vid­ual needs (up to and includ­ing their indi­vidial need for sur­vival) in the inter­est of the greater good. Those heroes, we come to under­stand, may die as mar­tyrs, but despite their demise as indi­vid­u­als, they col­lec­tively live for­ever in the legacy they share. This film, then, jus­ti­fies its own exis­tence as a doc­u­men­ta­tion of that hero­ism, bear­ing wit­ness to the actions of the pre­vi­ously-name­less souls who per­ished so that Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewy can save the day and get the credit.

So when car­toon Leia shows up and announces that the point of the whole thing is “hope,” it does a dis­ser­vice to the imme­di­ately pre­ced­ing nar­ra­tive. I sup­pose one could say that hope is  the point, and that Jyn’s pre-bat­tle pep talk on that topic is a state­ment of the movie’s cen­tral mes­sage. But other than those two men­tions, this film isn’t hope­ful — though they suc­cess­fully get the Death Star blue­prints to the Rebels, our heroes all die  — because this is the story of Rogue One’s ill-fated mar­tyrs, not the story of Princess Leia, her secret twin, and their estranged bio­log­i­cal father.

Indeed, Leia’s story (or, the one in which she is a prin­ci­ple char­ac­ter) is very much about “a new hope.” And its fine to con­nect the final moments of Rogue One to the open­ing scenes of Episode 4. But we did­n’t need her pithy line (or her car­toon face) to draw the con­nec­tion — it had been drawn already when we saw the guys in the famil­iar hel­mets on the famil­iar ship, and again when we saw her dress from behind.

Leia’s face and her stu­pid line ruin an oth­er­wise great Star Wars film. It’s fun to watch, well-paced, well-enough acted. It is com­posed in vir­tu­ally every way as wor­thy of the Star Wars fran­chise. That’s most evi­dent in the atten­tion paid to the oper­atic score, the artistry of the sets and estab­lish­ing shots of plan­e­tart land­scapes, the sound effects of the bat­tle scenes, and all those tiny details George Lucas trained us to notice (blue milk, pilot call signs, par­tic­u­lars of Rebel and Imperial ships, etc.). I even did­n’t mind the CGI ver­sion of a char­ac­ter pre­vi­ously played by a now-deceased actor, or the unnec­es­sary (and maybe poorly-timed) comic-relief cameo from a cer­tain pair of famil­iar droids. Neither diverted from the nar­ra­tive’s estab­lished direc­tion, and the for­mer exam­ple was less visu­ally prob­lem­atic than car­toon Leia because that char­ac­ter always had a cer­tain dark car­toon­ish qual­ity to him. ((The “uncanny val­ley” hypoth­e­sis — pointed out in Kelly Lawler’s cri­tique in USA Today and Noah Berlatsky’s on qz​.com — is right on with its sug­ges­tion that “human repli­cas that appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit feel­ings of eeri­ness and revul­sion.” It works for the Grand Moff Tarkin char­ac­ter because he is eery and revolt­ing.)) So his now-com­put­er­ized pres­ence felt less arrest­ing in com­par­i­son to Leia, whose famil­iar soft­ness and “real­ness” felt miss­ing from the abom­i­na­tion we found in her place.

Point is: great movie until the last 10 sec­onds. And maybe a great movie despite them. I con­tinue to be excited for what’s in store next, both from the films that will open with scrolling text and from this series of tan­gen­tial “sto­ries.”

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  • December 20, 2016

Nice piece in Haaretz on Trump’s choice for ambas­sador to Israel. The author is a pro­lific and tal­ented writer, capa­ble of deftly wield­ing fact-based argu­ment as an anti­dote to igno­rance and extremism.

But in this case, he didn’t need much of his trade­mark intel­li­gence or rhetor­i­cal flour­ish. Rather, he only needed his computer’s “copy” and “paste” com­mands. Because that’s all it takes to show that David Friedman is poorly qual­i­fied for the job to which he has been appointed and dan­ger­ous to the US and Israel due to his propen­sity to use both half-truths and slan­der­ous lies as means to his par­ti­san, extrem­ist objectives.

(Friedman’s read­ers’ appar­ent inabil­ity to tell the dif­fer­ence between his false­hoods and the actual truth is trou­bling as well, though per­haps unsurprising.)

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  • December 14, 2016

Gruber posted on Monday about how the non-tra­di­tional TV “net­works” are whoop­ing the likes of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, at least when it comes to broad­cast­ing high-qual­ity, award-wor­thy content.

One can rea­son­ably argue that the broad­cast net­works have always pro­duced mostly garbage, but the real change is that the broad­cast net­works have com­pletely missed the boat on the meg­amovie rev­o­lu­tion — shows that “take tele­vi­sion seri­ously as a medium”. That’s obvi­ously true for dra­mas like Game of Thrones and Westworld, but I think it’s true for come­dies, too. Consider the elim­i­na­tion of the laugh track.

He’s not wrong, except with the impli­ca­tion that the broad­cast net­works ever had a chance not to “miss the boat.” I’m not a TV-indus­try guy, and my under­stand­ing of that eco­nomic world is lim­ited to hav­ing lived in Los Angeles for 30+ years, but it seems to me like the big three/four can’t be expected to com­pete with “net­works” that play by dif­fer­ent rules.

The broad­cast­ing par­a­digm is based on a sin­gle foun­da­tion: rev­enue is depen­dent on rat­ings. That’s because rev­enue comes from ad rev­enue, and broad­cast­ers’ ad rates are depen­dent on their rat­ings. The trick of the broad­cast net­work’s eco­nomic model is to charge adver­tis­ers more for ad time than they spent to gen­er­ate the rat­ings required to charge the adver­tis­ers those rates.

That model results in deci­sion-mak­ers who are risk-averse. Why take a chance on a new prod­uct that has a decent chance of fail­ure — even when it’s a new kind of con­tent, or even a lit­tle change like laugh track elim­i­na­tion, that you  actu­ally believe in — when you have a sure-thing that’ll be good enough?

Furthermore, the broad­cast net­works’ rev­enue model tends to reward pop­u­lar taste (and its cousin, low-brow pro­cliv­ity) over crit­i­cal qual­ity. How many episodes of CSI and its sev­en­teen spin­offs did CBS air? (I’ll tell you: way too many.) Were any of the CSI fran­chises ever con­sid­ered by any­one to be high-qual­ity drama wor­thy of crit­i­cal acclaim? Nope. But they kicked ass in the rat­ings for a long time, so they made CBS a huge amount of money.

And that’s why net­works only care about Golden Globes and Emmies if win­ning them gen­er­ates buzz, higher rat­ings, and (there­fore) higher ad rev­enue. (And maybe because actors/directors/producers like win­ning awards, and happy actors/director/producers are the­o­ret­i­cally good for net­works, at least to a point.)

But that for­mula isn’t a guar­an­tee. Plenty of crit­i­cally acclaimed shows have been rat­ings duds. If NBC or ABC or CBS has a choice between an extra point-and-a-half in a key demo­graphic and ten Golden Globe nom­i­na­tions, they’ll always pick the for­mer. And that’s why they air the con­tent they air, and they’ve con­ceded the tro­phies to Netflix, Amazon, and the cable net­works that can (or at least hope they can) make money on high-brow.

None of this is news. This was the case back when HBO was rak­ing in award hard­ware for The Sopranos. At the time, plenty of peo­ple let them­selves believe that HBO was at an advan­tage because con­tent cre­ators could depict vio­lence, nip­ples, and curse words. But their real advan­tage was always that they could afford to take a risk on seri­ous episodic drama, which had the poten­tial for a mas­sively lucra­tive pay-off for them in the long term (in the form of sub­scribers who were hooked). The net­works play a short game in which last night’s rat­ings mat­ter right now. While this isn’t uni­ver­sal, and (I’ve been told by friends in the indus­try) it often isn’t quite so sim­ple, this par­a­digm is still at the core of how the broad­cast net­works operate.

Gruber might be able to relate. He loves to tease the Android mak­ers (and more so igno­rant Wall Street folks) who go on and on about mar­ket share, and who bash Apple’s low per­for­mance in that par­tic­u­lar met­ric. He’s observed all along (before any­one else really noticed) that Apple’s eyes aren’t on how many hand­sets or lap­tops they ship, but on how much money they make on the ones they do. (Because you can sell lots of phones if you don’t charge much for them. But that also means you won’t make much money.) So Apple is happy not to race to the bot­tom of the profit bar­rel in search of mar­ket share, because that mar­ket share does­n’t make them enough — or any — money.

Jon, here’s the thing: the net­works may have missed the boat on the lat­est and great­est trends in TV. But their execs don’t care, because their eyes aren’t on Golden Globe stat­uettes, but on how much money they’re mak­ing for their net­works. And spend­ing a ton of money to make a show that isn’t a def­i­nite weekly rat­ings win­ner isn’t a smart play for them.

(For the record: I hate this eco­nomic model because I like qual­ity pro­gram­ming. And most of my favorite shows right now are on Netflix or Amazon. I’m just say­ing that it the net­work broad­cast­ers “missed the boat,” they did so because they made a con­scious deci­sion to stay on dry land. Is that cow­ardly of them? Sure. Does it result in bland, bor­ing net­work tele­vi­sion? Generally, yes.)

the democrats need to do something drastic. joe biden has a shot to make it happen.
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  • December 7, 2016

On Daily Kos, David Waldman sug­gests an out­landish way of get­ting Garland onto the Supreme Court in the brief period when out­go­ing Senators are gone and incom­ing Senators haven’t been sworn in. I ini­tially blew it off as a silly fan­tasy. But…

Maybe the Vice-President and Senate minor­ity lead­er­ship should be con­sid­er­ing it. Why? Well. It’s been awhile since Dems did­n’t at least have the pres­i­dency, but let’s do our best to try and remem­ber the dif­fer­ence between the way Democrats and Republicans have behaved in recent mem­ory when in the minority:

Under W, Democrats basi­cally moped around, com­plained a lot, penned thought­ful and ana­lyt­i­cal op-eds, and in Congress they tried to be a thorn in the pres­i­den­t’s side.

Under Obama, the GOP did­n’t set­tle for being a thorn. They uti­lized every option, and stopped at absolutely noth­ing, to block the pres­i­dent and his agenda. Thorns? More like giant tire-pop­ping spike-strips across the high­way. They played the short game by block­ing bud­gets when­ever pos­si­ble, and they played the long game by focus­ing on local and state elec­tions, which allowed them to ger­ry­man­der them­selves into a last­ing major­ity in the House. (Indeed, as has been pointed out in a num­ber of places ((My favorite.)), the Republicans are numer­i­cally in the minor­ity, with an ide­ol­ogy that’s less pop­u­lar than ever, yet they have man­aged to win both houses and the pres­i­dency and they’re walk­ing around say­ing they have a “man­date.”) They have played the game — short, long, and every­thing in between — better.

They uti­lized a strate­gic and dis­ci­plined approach, and it’s paid off. Nowhere is that clearer than with the Garland appoint­ment. And that’s why I think that Dems in the Senate should con­sider not dis­miss­ing the sug­ges­tion that they use some com­pli­cated pro­ce­dural maneu­ver­ing to get Garland onto the bench.

Some Qualifiers

  1. Trying to move any other agenda item using this tech­nique ruins the purity and genius of it. Only the Garland appoint­ment allows the Democratic lead­er­ship to shrug across the aisle and say, “Well, you failed to do your Constitutional duty so you left us no choice. We tried to play fair.” And let’s also not for­get: Obama appointed an older, fairly mod­er­ate jurist because he was indeed try­ing to play fair, and to appeal to mod­er­ate Republicans to buck their party’s lead­er­ship in the inter­est of the greater good. (Turns out “mod­er­ate Republicans” are an extinct species inside the Beltway.) So the Garland appoint­ment has the addi­tional virtue of being less purely par­ti­san. ((While also being totally, com­pletely, unam­bigu­ously par­ti­san. It’s a Supreme Court jus­tice who’d be a tie-break­ing vote for chris­sakes. This is about abor­tion, Citizens United, mar­riage equal­ity, and tons more. Of course it’s par­ti­san.)) Dem law­mak­ers would be throw­ing a Hail Mary to get a mod­er­ate on the bench, not a hyper liberal.

    And they can also say: “We just wanted to give Justice Ginsburg the oppor­tu­nity to retire on her own terms with­out hav­ing to worry quite as much about the influ­ence of the fas­cist bible-thumper who will replace her.”

  2. GOP law­mak­ers’ actions in the past cou­ple years cer­tainly opens them to the accu­sa­tion that they put party before coun­try. ((See: the bud­get maneu­ver­ing that put the coun­try’s credit rat­ing at risk.)) Maybe Dems might not want to emu­late that behav­ior. But here’s the thing: that stuff did­n’t hurt Republicans at the polls. And more impor­tantly: They now have both houses and the pres­i­dency, which places on them the bur­den of lead­er­ship. That bur­den, as the GOP proved when in the major­ity, is not incum­bent on the minor­ity, whose lack of power leaves them with no choice but to resort to extremes. (Unless the major­ity actu­ally cares about part­ner­ship. Ha.)

  3. Nonetheless, this won’t hap­pen. Even after the Republicans had the chutz­pah to sit on a Supreme Court nom­i­na­tion for the bet­ter part of a year, Senate Dems won’t have the chutz­pah ((Or the extrem­ists. The Tea Party did the GOP a big favor by doing the dirty work and let­ting the main party estab­lish­ment stay insu­lated. See: Ted Cruz.)) to beat them at their own game.

Anyway, I’ll stop pon­tif­i­cat­ing and get to the point:

I can think of no bet­ter way for Biden to kick off his 2020 run — and to set the tone for stand­ing up to Trump/Ryan/McConnel for the next four years — than to go out hav­ing had more influ­ence as vice-pres­i­dent in his last few days than any who has ever held the office did in their entire terms.

If there’s any­one who can pull it off, it’s Joe.

tablet on drumpf at aipac: something’s rotten?
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  • March 21, 2016

Tablet’s edi­to­r­ial board says AIPAC fails to rep­re­sent both the left and the right when it comes to advo­cat­ing for Israel on American Jews’ behalf.

The invi­ta­tion to Trump is a sym­bol of what AIPAC has become — an orga­ni­za­tion staffed by mid-level incom­pe­tents who dis­grace our com­mu­nity with their evi­dent lack of both polit­i­cal savvy and moral sense. Let’s be frank: Some of us would be com­fort­able with a bunch of back-alley polit­i­cal knife-fight­ers whose only cause is the active defense of the Jewish peo­ple, while oth­ers want lead­ers devoted to mak­ing sure that our com­mu­nal goals embody uni­ver­sal morals and social-jus­tice values—regardless of how this might play on the geopo­lit­i­cal chess­board. Whichever camp you find your­self in, one thing is clear: What we have now in AIPAC is an orga­ni­za­tion with the fail­ings of both, and the virtues of neither.
Headless Community in Bottomless Spiral

This is a fas­ci­nat­ing piece of polit­i­cal rhetoric. The Tablet edi­tors are say­ing that both sides can agree AIPAC is a poor rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the American Jewish com­mu­nity, and then make their case from each side.

If they are able to step away from the par­ti­san­ship and actu­ally offer cogent ana­lyt­i­cal insight into AIPAC’s fail­ings on both the left and the right, then that’s admirable and use­ful. But the prob­lem is that vir­tu­ally no one (at least no one who is actively engaged in/with the Jewish com­mu­nity) is able to actu­ally back away from the fra­cas and say any­thing that isn’t seen by one side or both as an unfair attack. In other words, I’m won­der­ing if Tablet’s edi­to­r­ial team falls into the very trap into which they accuse AIPAC of falling: try­ing to be a voice for all sides and end­ing up being a voice for none.

Nonetheless, as an attempt to be ana­lyt­i­cal of AIPAC with­out stak­ing ground (or, being trans­par­ent about your ide­ol­ogy but attempt to tran­scend it for the pur­pose of analy­sis), I think it’s a good try, and a thought­ful, intel­lec­tu­ally deft, and inter­est­ing one at that.


At the same time, despite some strong lan­guage attack­ing AIPAC lead­er­ship (which we’ll get to in a sec­ond), the authors seem to be danc­ing around the point they really want to make: this is entirely about the organization’s lead­er­ship, or lack thereof. I think that’s a fair point to make, espe­cially if you can sup­port it with a well-rea­soned argu­ment. But a prob­lem with the Tablet edi­to­r­ial is that its authors hint at hav­ing a well-rea­soned argu­ment to back up their claims, but it’s hard to believe them when (a) they don’t present much evi­dence of orga­ni­za­tional chaos to sup­port their claims ((By “evi­dence,” I mean thought­fully-pre­sented fac­tual infor­ma­tion that sup­ports their claims, not, “AIPAC failed to stop the Iran deal… Can’t those screwups do any­thing right?”)), and when (b) they take numer­ous cheap shots and engage in petty ad hominem attacks ((Exhibit A: “…an orga­ni­za­tion staffed by mid-level incom­pe­tents who dis­grace our com­mu­nity with their evi­dent lack of both polit­i­cal savvy and moral sense.”)) on AIPAC leaders.

It should be fair game to claim that spe­cific peo­ple lack polit­i­cal savvy or that they have exhib­ited behav­ior that calls their moral sense into ques­tion, espe­cially if you sup­port those claims in a man­ner that’s con­vinc­ing or at least intel­lec­tu­ally hon­est. But call­ing unnamed AIPAC employ­ees “mid-level incom­pe­tents who dis­grace” the com­mu­nity that they’ve ded­i­cated them­selves (with pre­sum­ably best inten­tions) to serv­ing? That state­ment Trump-esque diss, a petty and rhetor­i­cally lazy turn of phrase that must have felt cathar­tic and won­der­fully naughty to type into the essay’s first draft, says more about its author than its sub­ject. It under­mines the edi­to­r­ial board’s entire point (as do the other cheap shots sprin­kled through­out), and it should have been excised before an edi­tor clicked “Publish.”

And also, it’s mean. I believe in the impor­tant prac­tice of a publication’s edi­to­r­ial board writ­ing with one voice, espe­cially on impor­tant issues like this. But it comes off look­ing like cow­ardly bul­ly­ing when an unnamed writer (writ­ing on behalf of a seem­ingly face­less edi­to­r­ial team) attacks a group of indi­vid­u­als with­out nam­ing names but with a nod and a wink that says, “We’re way too classy to name names but you know who we’re talk­ing about, right?”

With all due def­er­ence to the folks behind the pub­li­ca­tion (for whom I hold an immense amount of respect and awe-filled admi­ra­tion), Tablet’s typ­i­cally eru­dite edi­tors should be above that kind of shoddy writ­ing, and as a pub­li­ca­tion that endeav­ors to ele­vate pub­lic dis­course (instead of con­tribut­ing to the absence of dis­course down in the gut­ter on social media), it should be Tablet’s pol­icy to steer clear of lashon hara.

Moreover, if the point is that the root of the prob­lem AIPAC’s staff, then the nat­ural solu­tion is that the mem­ber­ship (who the edi­to­r­ial claims to stand with/for/behind) should act to replace said “incom­pe­tent” staff, since it’s incum­bent on a non-profit’s employ­ees to advance the mis­sion artic­u­lated by the organization’s mem­ber­ship. Of course, the editorial’s stance seems to be that the prob­lem is with AIPAC on the whole, so the sug­ges­tion that the orga­ni­za­tion is fun­da­men­tally bro­ken makes sense. But in that case the shots at staff are both irrel­e­vant and mis­placed, since it’s the mem­ber­ship who made/let it hap­pen (and if AIPAC is bro­ken on a fun­da­men­tal level, the prob­lems surely run deeper than some “mid-level incompetents”).

If, how­ever, the organization’s mem­bers and mis­sion are still wor­thy of sup­port, then the solu­tion is an easy one: Get rid of the staff who don’t get it and hire peo­ple who do. Otherwise, Tablet ought to be blam­ing the thou­sands of peo­ple who donate to AIPAC, show up at AIPAC events, and part­ner with AIPAC in their own communities.

main photo credit: Photo Cindy (Flickr)