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How to Roll Back Fanaticism (@nytdavidbrooks)

David Brooks:

Donald Trump is the perfect snake oil salesman for this moment…. He took a nation beset by uncertainty and he gave it a series of “explanations” that were simple, crude, affirming and wrong… Everything could be blamed on foreigners, the idiotic elites… The true link between the Trump administration and those pathetic loons in Charlottesville is not just bigotry, but also conspiracy mongering.


I’m beginning to think the whole depressing spectacle of this moment — the Trump presidency and beyond — is caused by a breakdown of intellectual virtue, a breakdown in America’s ability to face evidence objectively, to pay due respect to reality, to deal with complex and unpleasant truths. The intellectual virtues may seem elitist, but once a country tolerates dishonesty, incuriosity and intellectual laziness, then everything else falls apart.

Dishonesty, incuriosity and intellectual laziness. It is epidemic.

We are blasted by information on social media, good/bad, true/false, real/fake, witty memes… Birthers, Pizzagate, Sandy Hook a false flag operation, record turnout for the inauguration, and on and on. There are those on both sides who propagate incendiary information with others, but the political right has simply gone nuts pushing pure mythology over the past decade.

“Fake news,” information created to look like a real story with the intent to deceive, is a term Trump and others, especially (though not exclusively) on the right, have co-opted to mean something they just don’t like. Yet they, and Trump especially, promote ideas that have been thoroughly debunked all the time. They weaponize bullshit for their political aims.

If some politician or point of view that one disagrees with is so bad, there is usually plenty to criticize that is actually true. Unless you’re dishonest, why not stick with that?

Very few people take the time to vet information before sharing or believing it. Yet a lot of stories are easy to verify. If we each took the couple minutes necessary to debunk some of the outrageous things that pop up on our screens every week, we would not be susceptible to being fooled. I was amazed recently when someone I know well told me about a news item she had just read on Facebook. I asked her how she knew that it was true. Blank stare, followed by, “Huh?” She didn’t search for corroborating reports or any confirmation, just took what she read as being valid.

It’s especially despicable when the people promoting fake stories put themselves on the moral high ground. If you claim to have some belief in morality, especially if it’s through your faith, then why would you share stories that might be or that you know are lies? How can you convince yourself that you’re of sound character? Don’t answer. Just look in the mirror. Don’t be another person who deals in falsehoods, intentionally or otherwise. Make the buck stop at your own keyboard. Make an effort at honesty.

The Words of A Coward

Words matter. What is not said matters as well. Trump found some words this weekend for the violence in Charlottesville:

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.

“On many sides… for a long, long time.” A cop-out. And the words left out: any mention of the perpetrators, the issue, even the name of the city.

Then, our president found more words. Given the context, these strayed into the bizarre:

Our country is doing very well in so many ways. We have record – just absolute record employment. We have unemployment, the lowest it’s been in almost 17 years. We have companies pouring into our country. Foxconn and car companies, and so many others…

A failure to clearly condemn the antagonists, wrapped up with ego-stroking talking points about his presidency.

Maybe we who expected more are the fools.

More significant, Trump failed to acknowledge the terrorist attack several hours later in which a man drove a car into the crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing one woman and injuring nineteen others. Contrast the lack of any response by the president with his hair-trigger tweeting about past terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic extremists or even suspected extremists, whose tactics this killer in Charlottesville copied.

Among our Republican leaders, the immediate response to Charlottesville was tepid or non-existent, though there were some exceptions, some directed right at Trump.

Senator Corey Gardner of Colorado:

Mr. President - we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida:

Very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas:

I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute today’s grotesque act of domestic terrorism.

Even Anthony Scaramucci (remember him?) laid into Trump:

I think [Trump] needed to be much harsher as it related to the white supremacists and the nature of that… I applaud General McMaster for calling it out for what it is. It’s actually terrorism. Whether it’s domestic or international terrorism, with the moral authority of the presidency, you have to call that stuff out.

Courage, we know, means doing what should be done – what is right – despite the repercussions. Trump and many Republicans are simply cowards. Keeping their political support is more important than speaking out for what is right. The best case you can make if you don’t believe they agree with these hate groups is that Trump was treading very gingerly by his silence in order to avoid alienating the vile constituency in his base which includes the “alt-right,” the bigots, the KKK, the neo-Nazis.

Like many politicians, Trump is a candidate for the canonical example of someone we, in the days of our misguided youth, would call a pussy.

White supremacists noticed all of this. They took comfort in Trump’s equivocation. The neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website wrote:

Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us… No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, [Trump] just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.

At least they got it. Many right-wing apologists would not. Mike Huckabee, for example, said with a straight face:

Donald Trump, I thought, was very explicitly clear in condemning what happened.

But Trump wasn’t explicit, clear, or “very explicitly clear.” Huckabee, Vice President Pence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and others all cited a follow-up statement attributed to an unidentified “White House spokesperson” to prove the intent of Trump’s previous remarks. Trump, however, actually remained silent about it.

John Kasich almost nailed it, but let us down by referring to “a lot of people” which, presumably, included the president:

There are a lot of people who are just not comfortable with the issue; perhaps they are afraid it would aggravate their base.

David Duke, however, the leader of the KKK, was not about to miss:

I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.

The KKK… good company, eh?

This afternoon, after blowback from all sides of the political world, Trump read a prepared statement from the teleprompter. Had he the stones on Saturday to stand up tall and deliver what should have been the easiest speech anyone on his team could have conceived, for a situation for which it was so appropriate, despite the certain disappointment from the minority of his supporters who hide in the shadows and stoke fear and bigotry among themselves and lesser humans, he could have risen above this and begun to unite the decent among us. But being two days late to respond, his words were wasted. His words rang hollow, like a reluctant apology from an impetuous kindergartener who was caught pulling another kid’s hair and realizing there would be no snack time:

Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our creator, we are equal under the law and we are equal under our constitution. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry, strike at the very core of America.

Lest anyone think that was Trump finally metamorphosing into an adult, he soon followed it up on Twitter with this:

Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied…truly bad people!

Yes, the media jumped all over him, as did politicians in his own damn party, and continued piling on. And Trump, this hollow man, this shell of a leader, yet the most powerful man in the world, got on Twitter and whined, as he typically does. An imbecile. He cannot rise above the fray and lead us to a better place. His best moves are to hunker down, sulk, and hurl insults. Any time he is presented with the opportunity to rise up, he goes low.

The right words, and all of them. They were there on Saturday. Trump could have used them then, the obvious words that everyone saw. But he chose to ignore them. Two days later, those same words fell like duds.

The words of a coward. They always end with shame.


I updated this blog to support JSON Feed, by Manton Reece and Brent Simmons.

You can find the new feed here.

If I had done this from scratch, it probably would have taken about an hour, including a quick test and deployment. Since I’m using Jekyll, I found a good example from Hafnia Times on github and shamelessly copied and customized it.

I created feedjson.html in the _layouts folder:

layout: none

    "version": "",
    "title": {{ | smartify | jsonify }},
    {% if site.description %}"description": {{ site.description | smartify | jsonify }},{% endif %}
    "home_page_url": "{{ site.url }}/",
    "feed_url": "{{ site.url }}{{ site.feed_json }}",
    "expired": false,
    "items": [
{% for post in site.posts %}
            "id": "{{ }}",
            "title": {{ post.title | smartify | jsonify }},
            "content_html": {{ post.content | jsonify }},
            "url": "{{ site.url }}{{ post.url }}",
        {% if post.excerpt %}
            "summary": {{ post.excerpt | smartify | jsonify }},
        {% else %}
            "summary": {{ t.frontpage[page_language].description | smartify | jsonify }},
        {% endif %}
            "date_published": "{{ }}"
        }{% unless forloop.last == true %},{% endunless %}
{% endfor %}

Then I created a feeds folder and put this feed.json file there:

layout: feedjson

The whole thing took about ten minutes.

I like JSON Feed for the reasons outlined here. It’s easier to create and consume than an XML feed like RSS or Atom. This is especially true if you’re embedding HTML within the feed. Doing this in XML is pain. In fact, XML in general is a pain. JSON Feed is a long-overdue evolution of blog feeds.

Where does this go from here? Don’t know yet.

Update: In addition to the Hafnia Times project mentioned above, here are some other implementations of JSON Feed for Jekyll (I have only looked at these briefly):

Draining the Swamp... Or Not (@EricLiptonNYT, @benprotess, @lehrennyt)

Update: 31-May-2017 From the New York Times, “White House Details Ethics Waivers for Ex-Lobbyists and Corporate Lawyers”

The details on these so-called ethics waivers — more than five times the number granted in the first four months of the Obama administration — were made public after an intense dispute between the White House and the Office of Government Ethics, which had been pushing the Trump administration to stop granting such waivers in secret.

From Eric Lipton, Ben Protess and Andrew W. Lehren at The New York Times, “With Trump Appointees, a Raft of Potential Conflicts and ‘No Transparency’”:

President Trump is populating the White House and federal agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who in many cases are helping to craft new policies for the same industries in which they recently earned a paycheck.

In at least two cases, the appointments may have already led to violations of the administration’s own ethics rules. But evaluating if and when such violations have occurred has become almost impossible because the Trump administration is secretly issuing waivers to the rules.


The White House also announced on Friday that it would keep its visitors’ logs secret…


Mr. Trump’s own ethics executive order in late January eliminated a requirement, first adopted by President Barack Obama, that executive branch appointees not accept jobs in agencies they recently lobbied. That weakened standards applying to approximately 4,000 executive branch hires.

Mr. Trump also made it easier for former lobbyists in the government to get waivers that would let them take up matters that could benefit former clients.


[I]n several cases, officials in the Trump administration now hold the exact jobs they targeted as lobbyists or lawyers in the past two years.

The article goes on and on, loaded with specific examples. It’s all pretty startling.

Say what you want about the Obama administration, but regarding ethics, it should be a model for subsequent presidents. Trump is taking a different approach: actively encouraging corruption.

UK Seeks Access to Encrypted Messages (@AndrewSparrow)

Andrew Sparrow at The Guardian:

Amber Rudd has called for the police and intelligence agencies to be given access to WhatsApp and other encrypted messaging services to thwart future terror attacks, prompting opposition politicians and civil liberties groups to say her demand was unrealistic and disproportionate.

“It is completely unacceptable. There should be no place for terrorists to hide. We need to make sure that organisations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other.”

It is interesting to read some of the well-reasoned pushback from UK politicians, such as this:

“These terrorists want to destroy our freedoms and undermine our democratic society,” [Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman and a former deputy assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan police] said. “By implementing draconian laws that limit our civil liberties, we would be playing into their hands.”

Replace the word terrorists with everyone in Rudd’s statement above, and you get the whole picture. And the big problem, which I’ve mentioned quite a bit, including here, here, here, here, etc. Nothing has changed.

The GOP Wants Healthcare to Crash and Burn (@mattfleg, @thomaskaplan)

Matt Flegenheimer and Thomas Kaplan, in the New York Times:

Mr. Ryan was quick to adopt Mr. Trump’s favored rationale during the health fight, arguing that Republicans had been doing Democrats a grand favor by dismantling President Barack Obama’s health law in the first place and that Democrats would eventually suffer the consequences.

“I’m sure they may be pleased right now,” Mr. Ryan said, but when they see “how bad” things get, “I don’t think they’re going to like that, either.”

So, we who rely on the Affordable Care Act to get fair-to-mediocre health insurance are among the most vulnerable pawns in this political sniping and battle of wills. Trump and Ryan are not going to lift a finger to help shore up the problems with the ACA, and if more insurers leave the marketplace and things get worse, they are going to sit back and laugh in order to score political points with their base rather than try to actually fix the problems with the ACA. Then, maybe they will offer us a replacement plan, one that is truly awful, like the one they just tried to pass. Great.

To Mr. Ryan and Mr. Trump, and all the conservatives who think this is OK, I have one thing to say. In 2018 and 2020, you will be judged.

And I guess I actually have one more thing to say, to members of the GOP if they are content to let the public suffer the effects of their stubborn healthcare politics…

Go fuck yourselves.


We are living with a kakistocracy in the U.S. right now:

A kakistocracy is a state or country run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens. The word was coined by English author Thomas Love Peacock in 1829.

Despite what some liberal pundits have written (such as Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker and Stephen Wolf in The Daily Kos), while its roots are Greek (kakistos, meaning ‘worst’), kakistocracy itself is not a Greek term. I suppose describing it as such would lend it more gravitas, but that’s unnecessary.

The important point: it is the appropriate word.

The Next Blue-Collar Job Is Coding (@Pomeranian99)

From Clive Thompson at Wired, “The Next Big Blue-Collar Job Is Coding,” on how programming as a profession is more approachable than many realize:

Now, to be sure, society does need some superstars! Serious innovators, at companies and in academia, are the ones who create new fields like machine learning. But that doesn’t preclude a new mainstream vision of what most programming work actually is. For decades, pop culture (and, frankly, writers like me) have overpromoted the “lone genius” coder. We’ve cooed over the billionaire programmers of The Social Network and the Anonymized, emo, leather-clad hackers of Mr. Robot. But the real heroes are people who go to work every day and turn out good stuff—whether it’s cars, coal, or code.

I’ve been saying this for a long time. Most programming is a lot of common problem solving, attention to detail, tenacity, and a fair bit of drudgery. In other words, it’s like most jobs.

People have this notion that programmers have to be superhuman geniuses, and I think the industry has happily promoted this myth. For example, if you’re a programmer, you’ve no doubt seen technology recruiters seeking “rock star developers.” It’s ridiculous. This widespread perception is probably a big part of why people shy away from considering coding as a profession. A lot more people could do this for a living if they realized what it actually requires. Organizations mentioned in the article, like Dev Boot Camp, Bit Source, and CodeTN, are helping to destroy these stereotypes.

And there is a real future for this kind of work:

The national average salary for IT jobs is about $81,000 (more than double the national average for all jobs), and the field is set to expand by 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than most other occupations.

Our economy has been shifting away from traditional blue-collar jobs in industries like coal, steel, and manufacturing for decades. Those types of jobs are also being wiped out by automation, and that trend is not going to stop. It would make more sense for our government to help workers transition into sectors that actually have a future, like programming, rather than making empty promises of bringing back jobs that are likely lost forever.