insanity, incredulity, and media bias.
  • images
  • 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.

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.

make it stop.

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.)

my (totally unoriginal) <em>rogue one</em> reaction.
  • images
  • 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.”

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.)

tablet on drumpf at aipac: something’s rotten?
  • images
  • 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)



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?

From “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League The nation’s top col­leges are turn­ing our kids into zom­bies”:

What an indict­ment of the Ivy League and its peers: that col­leges four lev­els down on the aca­d­e­mic totem pole, enrolling stu­dents whose SAT scores are hun­dreds of points lower than theirs, deliver a bet­ter edu­ca­tion, in the high­est sense of the word.

I can’t speak for the Ivy Leagues, but my fourth-tier lib­eral arts col­lege did a pretty good job.

The inter­net is fucked:

We’re really, really fuck­ing this up.

But we can fix it, I swear. We just have to start telling each other the truth. Not the dou­ble­s­peak bull­shit of reg­u­la­tors and lob­by­ists, but the actual truth. Once we have the truth, we have the power — the power to demand bet­ter not only from our gov­ern­ment, but from the com­pa­nies that serve us as well. “This is a polit­i­cal fight,” says Craig Aaron, pres­i­dent of the advo­cacy group Free Press. “When the inter­net speaks with a uni­fied voice politi­cians rip their hair out.”

We can do it. Let’s start.


  • images
  • September 17, 2012

Awesome way to start the new year. Shanah Tovah. (Taken with Instagram at 7‑Eleven)

No one can deny the pop­u­lar­ity of the Farmer John pork-laden Dodger Dog, or its all-beef, but still non-kosher, alter­na­tive. A report from the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, a project of the American Meat Institute, which pro­vides data, research and recipes to food man­u­fac­tur­ers and reporters, states that the Dodger Dog was the No. 1 best-sell­ing Major League Baseball ball­park hot dog in 2011, and it is expected to be the fourth-high­est-sell­ing this year.

For the past sev­eral days, there’s been a lot of chat­ter on the inter­webs about a sug­ges­tion (which seems to have really taken off with this HuffPost arti­cle by Rabbi Jason Miller) that peo­ple boy­cott put pres­sure on Delta because “Delta will add Saudi Arabian Airlines to its SkyTeam Alliance of part­ner­ing com­pa­nies and would require Delta to ban Jews and hold­ers of Israeli pass­ports from board­ing flights to Saudi Arabia.” My col­leagues on UPGRD​.com, Matthew and Hunter, have offered thought­ful and thor­ough responses, as have pod­cast con­trib­u­tors Ben and Gary. Normally, I’d stay out of this to avoid the redun­dancy. But since I’m in the unique posi­tion of being an occa­sional UPGRD con­trib­u­tor and also some­one who works pro­fes­sion­ally in the Jewish com­mu­nity, I felt like I should jump in. Below is the sec­ond of two posts on the topic, both of which are cross-posted on my UPGRD​.com blog and on my per­sonal blog.

Read More

This is amazing.

Hot Dogs

by Christopher Walken

Do you enjoy eat­ing hot dogs? I hope you won’t be put off by my frank­ness when I tell you that I absolutely love them. In fact, I enjoy no food item more than a freshly-boiled hot dog. Now, I’ve done a lot of movies, and it’s true that I’ve worked with quite a few celebri­ties who did not share this opin­ion. I’m sorry to say that these peo­ple have always angered me.

There are two types of peo­ple in this world: those who eat hot dogs when­ever it is pos­si­ble to do so, and those who opt to do other things with their free time. Who do the lat­ter think they are kid­ding? What pas­time could be more reward­ing than the con­sump­tion of hot dogs? I haven’t yet found one, and I don’t expect to in my life­time. Unlike other foods, hot dogs can be eaten at any time, in any place, and it is not nec­es­sary to cook them. Now, I ask you: Why not eat hot dogs? They are delicious.

I carry a bag of hot dogs with me wher­ever I go. I eat them from the bag when­ever I get the urge, regard­less of the cir­cum­stances. When I make a movie, my hot dogs are my co-stars. If, in the mid­dle of a scene, I decide I want to con­sume a hot dog, I do so. I waste the direc­tor’s time and thou­sands of dol­lars in film stock, but in the end, it is all worth it, because I enjoy eat­ing hot dogs more than I enjoy act­ing. This both­ers some peo­ple. I was sup­posed to por­tray Batman, but when Tim Burton learned of my hot dog crav­ings, he asked Michael Keaton to wear the cape. To this day, I am peeved about this.

When we filmed The Dead Zone, I ate over 800 hot dogs a day. It was nec­es­sary. My char­ac­ter needed to come across as intense as pos­si­ble, and I found the inspi­ra­tion for that inten­sity in my intense love for hot dogs. The direc­tor, David Cronenberg, said that he would never work with me again. I kept eat­ing hot dogs when the cam­eras were rolling, and that seemed to bother him. I say fuck him. He does­n’t even like hot dogs.

I would like to end by empha­siz­ing once again that I really like to eat hot dogs. If any of you peo­ple dis­agree, I loathe you. I despise you. Not only that, but I also despise all your loved ones. I want to see them torn to pieces by wild dogs. If I ever meet you in per­son, I’ll smash your brains in with a fuck­ing bat. Then we’ll see who does­n’t like hot dogs.

Next week: My thoughts on Woody Allen, hot dog hater and shitty director.

Source: The Onion, some­time in the late ’90s, pre­dat­ing their cur­rent web archive.

(via Gruber, on American McCarver)