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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]

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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.)

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 places1, 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.2 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.3 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 chutz­pah4 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.


  1. My favorite. (back to foot­note in text)

  2. 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. (back to foot­note in text)

  3. See: the bud­get maneu­ver­ing that put the country’s credit rat­ing at risk. (back to foot­note in text)

  4. 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. (back to foot­note in text)

I’m very proud to announce that one of my pho­tos is being shown as part of the 2016 PJCC Community Art Show at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center, 800 Foster City Blvd., Foster City, CA 94404.

To cel­e­brate, I printed and framed three extra copies of the selected photo (below). It’s avail­able for pur­chase for $80 (flat rate USPS ship­ping, if you’re not in the Bay Area). It’s an 8″ x 12″ matte-finish Lustre print on archival paper with an archival white linen matte and a black wood frame, 17″ x 13″ total. Each piece is num­bered and signed. Email me if you’re interested.

The photo was taken on August 23, 2015 at Wavecrest Open Space in Half Moon Bay, California. (Coordinates are 37°26′57″ N 122°26′27″ W.)

tunnel - framed
Canon EOS 6D, Canon EF 24–70mm ƒ/2.8L II USM. Focal Length: 41mm, ISO 100, 15.0 sec at ƒ/16.

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  • March 16, 2016

Louis Brandeis

Brandeis, c. 1916

Merrick Garland

Garland, c. 2016

One hundred years ago (Jan. 28, 1916), President Wilson nominated Louis Brandeis to the US Supreme Court. What followed was one of the most contentious confirmation hearings in history, due to Brandeis' religious heritage and his unabashed liberalism (especially his record of fighting big Wall Street bankers).

One hundred years later, Merrick Garland is unlikely to face anti-Semitism on the Senate floor, and he's a far less polarizing pick than Brandeis was. Nonetheless, his confirmation hearings — if they even happen — are likely to be even more contentious.

Funny how much has changed. And how little.

The Women Take Over” by Dahlia Lithwick (Slate​.com):

… it’s hard to imag­ine President Obama con­jur­ing up, from even the dark­est, most devi­ous under­ground lab, a new jus­tice who would be half as fierce as the four-car train of whoop ass we saw today.

It’s hard to imag­ine any­one con­jur­ing up a bet­ter com­men­ta­tor on the Supreme Court than Dahlia Lithwick.

Her writ­ing on yesterday’s oral argu­ments in Whole Woman’s HealthHellerstedt is a beau­ti­ful illus­tra­tion of why I’d rather read her than pretty much any other jour­nal­ist work­ing today.

jeb-bush

Jeb.

Today was the GOP pri­mary in South Carolina. Jeb Bush just dropped out of the race because he failed to receive the sup­port of pri­mary vot­ers in three states whose del­e­gates — com­bined! — make up 3.5% (19/538) of the elec­toral college.

(In other words, these states are basi­cally irrel­e­vant in the national elec­tion, yet some­how some­one gave their most extreme vot­ers — the ones who show up for the pri­maries — the power to sink a viable candidate’s chances of get­ting the nom­i­na­tion in favor of a guy who is demon­stra­bly loony toons.)

I’m by no means a fan of Jeb Bush, and a part of me won­ders if it helps Dems’ chances in November if the Republicans end up let­ting extrem­ist vot­ers in small states nom­i­nate an openly racist can­di­date to the party’s ticket. But seri­ously… if this isn’t enough to give some legs to efforts to change the pri­mary sys­tem, I don’t know what will.

Also, won­der­ing: After the way Trump took every oppor­tu­nity to pub­licly bad­mouth, embar­rass, shame, and vil­ify him and his fam­ily, if Trump ends up being the can­di­date will Jeb even cast a bal­lot in November?

Max Steinberg grew up in the same part of Los Angeles where I did, and he grad­u­ated from my high school, though it was a decade after I was last there. So I never met him. But I’ve read a lot about him this week, after he died while serv­ing in the IDF in Gaza and his story became the par­a­dig­matic nar­ra­tive about Americans who go to Israel to join the army.

And I read with inter­est when one of my favorite writ­ers, Slate’s Allison Benedikt wrote about Steinberg yes­ter­day in a much-Facebooked arti­cle.

birthrightThe piece has come under fire because Benedikt seems to be claim­ing that Birthright killed Max Steinberg. Or at least that’s what the crit­ics are say­ing.

I don’t think that’s what Benedikt was try­ing to say. As I read it, she’s answer­ing a ques­tion that a lot of non-Jews (and non-engaged Jews) might be ask­ing: What made this kid — who never seemed to be all that Jewy before — decide to pick up and join the Israeli army? That’s a legit­i­mate ques­tion. How many American kids ship off to fight for the Dutch army or the Argentinian navy? (Not very many, I would think.)

Benedikt answers the ques­tion by explain­ing that (a) Steinberg’s par­ents credit Birthright, and (b) Birthright’s goal is to get American kids to care about Israel. Her assess­ment seems to be: Look! It worked.

And, “at some point dur­ing their all-expenses-paid ten-day trip to a land where, as they are con­stantly reminded, every moun­tain and val­ley is inscribed with 5,000 years of their people’s his­tory,” there is “the moment”— the moment when par­tic­i­pants real­ize just how impor­tant Israel is to them, to their fun­da­men­tal iden­tity, and how impor­tant they are to Israel.

According to Steinberg’s par­ents, that is exactly what hap­pened to Max.

Birthright’s defend­ers should take her arti­cle as a com­pli­ment, not an attack.

Benedikt does make one impor­tant crit­i­cal point:

People say Birthright is “just like camp,” and it sure sounds like a very con­densed ver­sion of the Jewish camp I attended as a kid, whose pur­pose was, at the very least, to fos­ter a con­nec­tion to Israel in young Jews—and at best, to get us to move to the coun­try and fight for it. My camp, filled with the chil­dren of lib­eral American Jews, did this by pre­sent­ing a very sim­plis­tic pic­ture of the polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in Israel and the threat to Jews world­wide, all within the con­text of help­ing to fix the world while hav­ing the time of your life. Birthright does a form of the same.

Um… are peo­ple say­ing she’s off base here? It seems to me that it’s a fair crit­i­cism. Birthright is a ten-day trip, partly because the 6-week sum­mer trips that existed before its incep­tion weren’t attract­ing unen­gaged, dis­con­nected Jews (like, um, Max Steinberg). Since it’s begin­nings, I’ve heard lots of Jewish edu­ca­tors who are Birthright sup­port­ers (and I think I count myself in that group) admit that ten days is just a taste, and that it presents a “sim­plis­tic pic­ture.” (And we usu­ally say that if Birthright does its job, we’ll have lots of chances to add lay­ers of com­plex­ity to that pic­ture as the attendee engages post-trip.)

Is Benedikt’s atti­tude toward Birthright a lit­tle cyn­i­cal? Sure. It should be. It’s a multi-million dol­lar PR cam­paign for Israel and Jewish iden­tity. It deserves to be exam­ined with some healthy cynicism.

Moral of the story: Chillax. Allison Benedikt said noth­ing wrong.

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams’ cast will have a Father’s Day reunion for film’s 25th anniver­sary:

Details were announced Monday for a Father’s Day week­end (June 13–15) cast reunion and cel­e­bra­tion of the film that will include star Kevin Costner and other cast mem­bers, as well as base­ball play­ers Bret Saberhagen, Glendon Rusch and Ryan Dempster. Bob Costas will emcee and Matt Lauer of NBC’s “Today” show, who will lead a Q & A with the film’s cast. This will, of course, take place in Dyersville, Iowa, where “Field of Dreams” was filmed.

Read the rest

To Advance Education, We Must First Reimagine Society:

As Abbott sees it, the need for reflection has never been greater. Spurred by technological advances, “civilization is on the cusp of a metamorphosis,” he says, that will lead either to societal collapse and chaos, or to a resurgence of liberty, community, and ethics. Either way, schools are stuck in the past: The emphasis has been on feeding children static information and rewarding them for doing only what they’re told, instead of helping them develop the transferable, higher-order skills they need to become life-long learners and thrive in an uncertain future.

Read more

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  • January 10, 2014

Google’s deci­sion to acti­vate (and turn on by default) a “fea­ture” that allows any­one to send you email via Google Plus has sparked some con­tro­versy.

The prob­lem with the free email ser­vices most of us use is that vir­tu­ally all of them are offered pro­vided by com­pa­nies whose main inter­ests aren’t email. In other words, Google, Microsoft, and Apple all offer “free” email in order to get you into their ecosys­tems. Gmail exists so Google can sell your eye­balls to adver­tis­ers. Like all of Apple’s soft­ware, iCloud exists so Apple can con­trol every aspect of an iOS or Mac user’s expe­ri­ence.1 Hotmail and Outlook​.com (and what­ever other crap Microsoft is doing these days) exist so that Microsoft can keep more peo­ple reliant on Office and Windows (and what­ever other crap Microsoft is doing these days).

And that’s the thing: Their goal isn’t to cre­ate awe­some email that meets users’ needs. Sure, inso­far as cre­at­ing awe­some email helps get more peo­ple into their ecosys­tem, then I sup­pose cre­at­ing an awe­some email sys­tem is part of what they do. But don’t ever for­get that they have a big­ger goal in mind. When it comes right down to it, Google is obsessed with get­ting peo­ple into Google+, and they don’t even blink when pri­or­i­tiz­ing their needs (inte­gra­tion with their social net­work) over most users’ (the abil­ity to receive mes­sages only from those who’ve received my email address from me).2

As long as we use email that’s pro­vided by some­one who sees email as a means to achiev­ing their own (non-email related) goals, then this is going to keep happening.

We can bitch and com­plain all we want, but here’s the thing: As long as we use email that’s pro­vided by some­one who sees email as a means to achiev­ing their own (non-email related) goals, then this is going to keep hap­pen­ing. That’s the cost of “free” email.

I want a ser­vice that pro­vides email that’s clean, ele­gant, and easy-to-use. I want it to be pri­vate, secure, and safe. I want it to be standards-based, by which I mean I want it to work well with my exist­ing devices and sys­tems as well as with the ones that I don’t have or that don’t exist yet. And I want as much con­trol as pos­si­ble. I want con­trol over my pri­vacy set­tings, over the inter­face, over the imple­men­ta­tion of new fea­tures, over… everything.

And for that, I’d gladly pay a few bucks a month. Or even ten.


  1. Steve Jobs once said, “I’ve always wanted to own and con­trol the pri­mary tech­nol­ogy in every­thing we do.” Over the years, Apple loos­ened up a lit­tle as Jobs and Co. real­ized that they could gain more by giv­ing users a lit­tle bit more con­trol. But it’s pretty clear that the brain trust in Cupertino is still pretty com­mit­ted to the idea that the only way you can guar­an­tee users a prod­uct that “just works” is to main­tain as much con­trol as pos­si­ble over every aspect of both hard­ware and soft­ware (includ­ing cloud-based soft­ware and ser­vices). And since con­sumers seem to like prod­ucts that “just work” (Lord knows I do), Apple makes a lot of money as a result of this for­mula. (back to foot­note in text)

  2. Marco Arment says it best:

    Google’s lead­er­ship, threat­ened by the atten­tion and adver­tis­ing rel­e­vance of Facebook, is bet­ting the com­pany on Google+ at all costs.

    Google+ adop­tion and usage is not meet­ing their expec­ta­tions. Facebook con­tin­ues to dom­i­nate. It’s not work­ing. They’re desperate.

    Google will con­tinue to sell out and poten­tially ruin its other prop­er­ties to juice Google+ usage. These efforts haven’t worked very well: they juice the num­bers just enough that Google will keep doing this, yet will keep need­ing to do more.

    I don’t like Google+ very much, and I have no inter­est in being dragged into using it. Gmail belongs to Google, and if Google wants to build Gmail and Google+ into each other, then that’s Google’s pre­rog­a­tive. And find­ing a new email provider is my pre­rog­a­tive. And hon­estly: As long as Google’s behav­ior doesn’t have a notice­able effect on how many peo­ple use Gmail (and/or how much they use it), then they have no rea­son to stop. (back to foot­note in text)

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  • March 22, 2013

Nice use of video by a non-profit. I’m sure it wasn’t cheap to pro­duce, but prob­a­bly didn’t cost as much as you’d think.