Turn of the Screw

August 21st felt like a turning point. With the simultaneous trials of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort popping out new bits of information about how Donald Trump ran his campaign, we learned that our President may be an “unindicted co-conspirator” in a crime. That’s an especially loaded term commonly associated with Nixon and Watergate (Wikipedia has already updated itself to include Trump) that indicates we may be headed into impeachment territory depending on the outcome of our midterm elections.

Joe Kahn, Managing Editor at the New York Times gave a very measured summary of the events of the day on The Daily podcast, part of what I’ve transcribed below.

This was the day that a series of possible charges turned into something that really is a direct legal and direct political threat to Trump’s longevity in office. It is quite likely that this will become a central issue in the midterm elections and force voters to decide whether or not they want to put Democrats back into majority in the house precisely because impeachment proceedings are the constitutional way to adjudicate a accusation of criminal activity by the President United States.

Up until now, even Democrats, had been reluctant to waive the impeachment flag as part of their campaign in the midterm elections. But you now have the President effectively being an unindicted co-conspirator in a crime. It seems highly likely that that then becomes a serious political if not a direct legal threat to the President. So this is a historic shift in the nature of the threat that we’ve been hearing about, writing about, talking about for so many months.

Impeachment is an unavoidable topic. It doesn’t mean he will be impeached. It doesn’t mean that if he is impeached he will be convicted but it is unavoidable topic when the president is an unindicted co-conspirator in a crime. That is the constitutional mechanism for adjudicating a credible accusation of illegal activity by the President of the United States.

Joe Kahn, Managing Editor, The New York Times

The following morning, here is the President’s response.

The week that was (08-17-2018)

The massive Carr Fire in Northern California was traced to sparks from a wheel rim of a trailer with a flat tire. When one individual in Redding reached out to forgive the elderly owners of that trailer for what was clearly a tragic mistake, many other followed suit. “I would think, no matter what race, what color, people are kind. . . deep down I think that compassion and community are at the core of human beings.” said Rachel Pilli, the catalyst of good.

Reebok launched a line of shoes made from corn.

Japan launched, in Hiroshima, the nation’s first pizza vending machine.

The Who’s Roger Daltrey said in an interview that hip-hop music has not really evolved and Kanye West’s music is “kind of meaningless.”

A nun from the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in Missouri was caught at Sydney Airport smuggling over a kilogram of cocaine inside a pair of high-heeled shoes. It appears she was an innocent victim and was duped into thinking she was doing someone a favor.

Ikea opened in India with local modifications such as solar-powered delivery rickshaws and samosas and biriyani in the cafeteria instead of the traditional Swedish meatballs.

The “tinny sounds of a cellphone ringtone” cut into the hushed silence of the gallery just as Tiger Woods drew back his club at the PGA Championship causing him to flub an important drive on the 5th hole. “I thought I might see a riot,” wrote one fan.

Mathematicians finally solved the age-old problem of how to break a spaghetti stick into two. (thx Dav)

Berry-growers in the Pacific Northwest have discovered a new way to keep birds from feasting on their crop. Lasers.

6-year-old Caitlin was left alone with her mom’s computer to order herself a new Barbie. She got a little carried away with the one-click Amazon Prime purchase account and racked up $350 in additional toys. She’s lost her internet privileges for a month.

Photo credit: Reddit user ConyCony

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Civil Eyes

I’m not great with words so I’ve been looking for someone else to quote that best expressed my views on the recent moves by social media companies to curate the discussions taking place on their platforms. I did not feel comfortable with the knee jerk reaction to simply get rid of the “bad stuff” as such blanket bans could too easily be misapplied and cause collateral damage. But,  like others, I was impatient with @jack’s intellectual distancing.

The light bulb finally went off when I read Jeff Jarvis’ piece in The Atlantic, Platforms Are Not Publishers. Jarvis points out that we view the internet through the lens we have for print – a medium where words are published for consumption. Print is broadcast. The internet is, by definition, bi-directional. The internet is not about content, it is about conversations. Conversations are iterative, messy, hard to curate, let alone control. An editorial board is not the solution.

The banning of Infowars from most major platforms is a sign of that process beginning to work. Civilization is winning, at last. Alex Jones went too far and the public, empowered by the same tools of social media he exploited, told the platforms that his behavior is unacceptable in a civilized society. The platforms—like media and like regulators—might prefer to start with a set of rules that can be enforced by government, by social-media managers, or by algorithms. But that’s not how we negotiate our standards. The breach makes the rule. We know pornography, propaganda, trolling, and spamming when we see it, and then write the rules to prevent it. That progress always seems to take too long, but it is prudent that we ban what we see rather than everything we might fear.

– Platforms Are Not Publishers

The norms of acceptable conduct are still being refined. With each new transgression or outrage such as the Infowars example, we collectively define the line between a provocative debate of a contrarian viewpoint and an attention-grabbing, deceitful and malicious commercial enterprise.

Political discussions used to be along a familiar Liberal – Conservative spectrum in which both sides used agreed upon tools (facts, scientific method) to argue their case. Think of the Federalist Papers or, more recently, the Buckley/Vidal debates during the early days of television.

Today, agreed upon facts have been discarded and shared decorum has gone out the window, replaced by intimidation and violence. Democracy’s unconditional support of free speech has been weaponized and used to justify the distribution and amplification of the outrageous and untrue. The folks at Pod Save America took to their blog to describe how we got to where we are today.

The company’s lip-service defense of free speech is in practice a choice to collapse the distinction between disinformation and news-analysis. The right-wing narrative of social-media censorship is dishonest, but it has also been incredibly effective in pressuring platforms into accepting lies as opinion.

– Facebook Is The World’s Biggest Right-Wing Media Company

We must return to Jarvis’ framework for the internet as a conversation to better understand how to manage our way forward. “Twitter is not The New York Times. It is Times Square,” says Jarvis. In a public space, no one would tolerate someone screaming and threatening another individual or group with half-baked ideas. To curate a debate that improves our understanding of the world today, we should favor voices that respectfully lay out an argument that is well-researched and moves the debate forward. We have too many hair-raising threats to our existence just over the horizon to waste our time on anything less.

My 7th grade school bus driver was this amazing woman who managed to keep the 50-odd kids on her bus in line during our 30-minute ride through rural Connecticut to John Winthrop Junior High. She had this enormous, panoramic mirror so she could keep an eye on things. Whenever things started to get out of hand, she’d peer up into the mirror and stared into your soul while bellowing, “KNOCK IT OFF BACK THERE!” Justice was meted out equally, without bias or favor.

The social networks need to start acting more like that school bus driver, keeping us kids in line, with a modicum of civility and mutual respect, so no one gets hurt and we can move the conversation forward.

The week that was (08-10-2018)

Two elderly men escaped a nursing home in Germany to go to a heavy metal festival. They were discovered at 3am and were “reluctant to leave” the four-day festival which included bands such as Judas Priest, Hatebreed, In Flames, Running Wild, Arch Enemy, and Eskimo Callboy.

A teenager who really wanted to go to a concert in the next state was arrested for trying to steal a twin-engine jet plane. When asked, the 18-year old said, “he didn’t believe there was much more to the task than pushing buttons and pulling levers.”

A New Zealand man is recovering from injuries sustained while defending a jogger from a herd of hostile cows.

A 9-year-old’s lemonade stand was held up by another boy brandishing a BB gun pistol. He made his getaway on a bicycle. The suspect was later arrested and the local Lowe’s gave the victim a lawn mower for which he had been saving up to buy.

A McDonald’s in the UK refused to serve a woman because she went to its drive-thru window on horseback.  “I can’t serve you, you are not a car” said the worker, citing their drive-thru lane policy.

15-year old Kevin Dimaculangan was crowned the new Microsoft Excel champion. He has his sights set on Word or Powerpoint next.

City government workers in Alaska had to resort to using typewriters and hand-written receipts when dormant ransomware kicked into gear and encrypted nearly all the workstations and most of their servers.

Employees at the National Weather Service were confused when a message in Chinese that translated roughly as, “You have a package from Amazon at the Chinese Embassy, press 1 for more details” boomed over the entire building’s intercom system.

Hackers descended on Las Vegas for the annual DEF CON conference and within hours had already hacked the hotel room thermostats, elevators, and slot machines.

Airbus announced that it has successfully flown an unmanned, solar-powered drone for a record 25 days straight.

A new law in Tennessee will require the national motto, “In God We Trust,” be prominently displayed in all public schools.

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The week that was (08-03-2018)

Tesla dipped, every so briefly, into the surfboard business before completely selling out of their limited-edition, carbon-fiber, surfboards.

Thieves kidnapped a shark from the San Antonio Aquarium by wrapping it in a blanket and disguising it as a baby in a stroller. The three-foot horn shark known as “Ms Helen” was found and is now recovering.

Someone had second thoughts about a ring-tailed lemur that they stole from the Santa Ana Zoo and left it in a crate on the doorstep of a Newport Beach hotel with a note asking that it be returned.

A company called We Rent Goats lost track of about 100 goats that wrecked havoc in West Boise, Idaho as they ate their way through a suburban neighborhood.

A sunflower farm in Canada is “closed for good” after Instagrammers overwhelmed their fields in search of the perfect selfie.

Lagunitas, a Northern California brewery purchased last year by Heineken, launched a new line of THC-infused sparkling hop-water drinks, Hi-Fi Hops. “This isn’t some fly-by-night, amateur’s jungle juice. This is contemporary consumer beverage tech mixed into every 12-ounce can, which retails for $8,” says Leafly magazine.

The company behind Canada Dry Ginger Ale is being sued because the soft drink apparently doesn’t contain any ginger.

A young boy’s lemonade stand was shut down by the New York state health department for operating without a permit. The New York Governor offered to pay any fees to re-open Brendan Mulvaney’s front yard stand.

NASA’s TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) began operations and will head out into deep space in search of life on other planets.

France announced that all students under the age of 15 must leave their cellphones at home or turned off while at school. Meanwhile, the French culture ministry launched an app called Pass Culture which gives each 18-year-old EUR€500 to spend on museums and film.

The New York Mets lost to the Washington Nationals by a staggering 25-4 margin. It was not the worst loss in the franchise’s history.

Photo credit: Reddit user ggfergu

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The week that was (07-27-2018)

A man who vandalized Trump’s Walk of Fame star was bailed out by James Otis, the man who vandalized Trump’s star the last time.

Facing declining profits from cigarette sales, Imperial Brands made its first investment in the marijuana industry. The company behind the Kool and Winston brands, has joined with rap musician Snoop Dogg and actor Patrick Stewart to invest in a British medical marijuana research firm.

A Japanese startup is developing a “shooting stars on demand” service and expects to be ready to deliver the world’s first artificial meteor shower at the 2020 Japan Olympic Games.

The ACLU uploaded 25,000 criminal mugshots into Amazon’s facial recognition software, Rekognition, and ran it against the official photos of all 535 members of Congress, asking for any matches. The software ended up matching 28. Nearly 40 percent of Rekognition’s false matches in the test were of people of color, even though they make up only 20 percent of Congress.

Burberry decided the best way to preserve its brand value was by burning over $38 million of its unsold inventory.

A tortilla chip factory in San Antonio discovered that, if precautions are not taken, their unsold inventory can spontaneously catch fire.

A New Hampshire man was arrested for indecent exposure when he misunderstood his gym’s “judgement free zone” tagline. In Nashville, a man was arrested for doing jumping jacks, naked, in the women’s restroom at McDonald’s.

A University of Iowa football player was arrested for public intoxication after police say he tried to get into a police cruiser, thinking it was his Uber ride.

The California DMV is deciding on the appropriate corrective action after discovering a data operator has been sleeping at her desk for extended periods of time during work hours for the past four years.

Some universities in China have fitness requirements, asking students to log their steps each day with a fitness app. This has spawned a revolution in clever engineering hacks to fool the fitness apps to log steps while they sleep.

A zoo in Egypt is under fire after their zebra’s “stripes” began to run. People are pretty sure it’s a donkey someone painted to look like a zebra.

An Arizona man, who had recently been released from the hospital where he was recovering from a heat-related malady, stole an ambulance because it was too hot to walk. He said he intended to return the ambulance when he was done.

42,000-year old earthworms have revived from their deep freeze in the Siberian permafrost and are now “happily going about their business.”

Photo credit: Reddit user goatious

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Flyboard Air – is this thing legal?

Visitors to the Bay Area are amazed at the personal transportation options that you see on a typical day in downtown San Francisco. You’ve all heard about the electric scooter wars, there are also electric skateboards that can reach speeds of up to 30 MPH and there are several variations of the one-wheel board that look like something out of the Jetsons.

Onewheel+XR
Segway Ninebot One S1

I now present the latest in crazy. The Flyboard Air can reach a top speed over 100 MPH and altitudes of hundreds of meters. Pretty sure you can’t use this for your morning commute!

The week that was (07-20-2018)

Crowds on South Street in Philadelphia got bored with the simulcast of the World Cup final and turned to re-living their Eagles win the Super Bowl from five months ago instead.

The small town in rural Japan that is the birthplace of something called Ninja Tourism is facing a shortage of Ninjas.

Scientists have detected just enough Cesium-137 radiation in California wines to date wines made before or after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

To the surprise and amusement of city workers, the public flower beds in Powell, Wyoming started sprouting marijuana plants. The contraband cannabis plants were, “unknowingly watered and cared for” before they started to leaf out and were immediately recognized.

Donald Trump, fresh off his self-perceived successes with the NATO and Putin meetings in Europe, wants to paint Air Force One red, white, and blue.

Protestors have organized nightly events outside the White House to prevent Trump from getting over his jet lag. So far there has been a mariachi band and opera singers belting out The Star Spangled Banner. Tonight there will be a hip-hop artist and a brass band. The organizer is looking for tap dancers, puppeteers, a professional auctioneer (to verbally reenact outside the White House everything important Trump is giving away to the highest bidder), and bagpipers for the, “most epic bagpipe performance you have ever seen.”

The Brady Bunch house is on sale for the first time in 45 years. $1.85 million if you must ask.

First it was too heavy so they made it longer. Now it’s too long to fit the dock. Total retrofits of the new Spanish submarines will cost upwards of 14 million euros. Someone had put a decimal point in the wrong place, and “nobody paid attention to review the calculations”.

Rodney Smith Jr. finished his challenge of mowing a lawn in every state, for the 2nd year in a row.

Finally, the made-ya-look headline of the week award goes to Nixon Calls For Trump’s Impeachment by NY State of Politics.

Photo credit: Evy Mages at The Washingtonian

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