This is madness, utter madness.
Michael Lewis has a new book about how the combustible cocktail of wilful ignorance and venality that is the Trump regime is fuelling the destruction of a country’s fabric. Here’s a sample from the chapter on the transition:
Not long after the people on TV announced that Trump had won Pennsylvania, Jared Kushner grabbed Christie anxiously and said: “We have to have a transition meeting tomorrow morning!” Even before that meeting, Christie had made sure that Trump knew the protocol for his discussions with foreign leaders. The transition team had prepared a document to let him know how these were meant to go. The first few calls were easy – the very first was always with the prime minister of Great Britain – but two dozen calls in you were talking to some kleptocrat and tiptoeing around sensitive security issues. Before any of the calls could be made, however, the president of Egypt called in to the switchboard at Trump Tower and somehow got the operator to put him straight through to Trump. “Trump was like … I love the Bangles! You know that song Walk Like an Egyptian?” recalled one of his advisers on the scene.
That had been the first hint Christie had of trouble…
From a powerful piece in today’s Guardian:
When Facebook invited journalists for a phone briefing on Tuesday evening to talk about its progress in tackling hate speech in Myanmar, it seemed like a proactive, well-intentioned move from a company that is typically fighting PR fires on several fronts.
But the publication of a bombshell Reuters investigation on Wednesday morning suggested otherwise: the press briefing was an ass-covering exercise.
This is the latest in a series of strategic mishaps as the social network blunders its way through the world like a giant, uncoordinated toddler that repeatedly soils its diaper and then wonders where the stench is coming from. It enters markets with wide-eyed innocence and a mission to “build [and monetise] communities”, but ends up tripping over democracies and landing in a pile of ethnic cleansing. Oopsie!
What’s truly revolting about Facebook is the moral infantilism of its senior executives. They’ve been warned about what was happening in Myanmar for years.
Simple, just opt for the wrong kind of Brexit — one that involves new customs checks at the UK’s borders. Interesting research at Imperial College, London is simulating the likely impact of different assumptions of how long it takes to do the checks at the Channel ports.
The BBC report of the research says:
The research, led by Dr Ke Han, assistant professor in transport, found the current vehicle check time is about two minutes, which can lead to queues of almost 10 miles during peak times, between 16:00 and 19:00.
Queues on the M20 and A20 between Maidstone and Dover would reach 29.3 miles if checks took an average of four minutes, they found.
This would leave drivers waiting almost five hours on the route.
“An extra 10 miles concentrated on local streets resulting from motorway deadlock is entirely possible,” they added.
Figures were compiled using traffic simulations for the area, using data from official sources such as Highways England, the Department for Transport, the Port of Dover and maps.
The research also took into account different kinds of vehicles such as passenger vehicles, light goods vehicles, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and coaches.
These simulations look plausible to me. Two years ago, we were coming back from France in August when there were delays at Folkestone because some migrants had got into the tunnel at Calais, which led to the Europe-bound tunnel being closed. We disembarked from the shuttle at about 16:30 and then drove at 70mph for 15 minutes, during which time the France-bound carriageway of the M20 was blocked by three lanes of stationary trucks. That’s a parking lot 17.5 miles long.
This is from the front page of today’s Financial Times. It’s a vivid demonstration of what happens to governments when they have imbided an ideology that says that when there is a choice between the state providing a service or outsourcing it to a private company, then it’s always best to do the latter.
Here’s the nub of this particular act of folly:
As a result, fire services at 69 RAF bases will be outsourced to the riskiest company available.
Confirms my definition of ideology as “what determines how you think when you don’t know you’re thinking”.
From the Washington Post:
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who spoke with Trump as he flew home from Singapore on Air Force One, said the president was simply being his natural “salesman” self.
“He is selling condos, that’s what he is doing,” Graham said. “He’s approaching North Korea as a distressed property with a cash-flow problem. Here’s how we can fix it.”
In a news conference Tuesday before departing Singapore, Trump hinted at his dreams of real estate diplomacy, noting that he had played Kim a video — derided by some as more akin to North Korean propaganda than the work of the president’s National Security Council — to show him the possibilities of a deal with the West.
“As an example, they have great beaches,” Trump said. “You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean, right? I said, ‘Boy, look at the view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo behind?’ ”
Sometimes, one comes on stuff that you really could not make up. Like this piece in Politico. Excerpt:
Armed with rolls of clear Scotch tape, Lartey and his colleagues would sift through large piles of shredded paper and put them back together, he said, “like a jigsaw puzzle.” Sometimes the papers would just be split down the middle, but other times they would be torn into pieces so small they looked like confetti.
It was a painstaking process that was the result of a clash between legal requirements to preserve White House records and President Donald Trump’s odd and enduring habit of ripping up papers when he’s done with them — what some people described as his unofficial “filing system.”
Under the Presidential Records Act, the White House must preserve all memos, letters, emails and papers that the president touches, sending them to the National Archives for safekeeping as historical records.
This morning’s Observer column:
It’s a quintessential Silicon Valley story. A smart, attractive 19-year-old American woman who has taught herself Mandarin while in high school is studying chemical engineering at Stanford, where she is a president’s scholar. Her name is Elizabeth Holmes. In her first year as an undergraduate she persuades her professor to allow her to attend the seminars he runs with his PhD students. Then one day she drops into his office to tell him that she’s dropping out of college because she has a “big idea” and wants to found a company that will revolutionise a huge part of the healthcare system – the market for blood testing services. Her company will be called Theranos.
Holmes’s big idea was for a way to perform multiple tests at once on a tiny drop of blood, and to deliver the results wirelessly to doctors. So she set about pitching to investors…
I’ve been watching — and enjoying — A Very English Scandal, an astonishingly good BBC mini-series about the Thorpe affair, distinguished by a truly masterful performance by Hugh Grant (above) as Jeremy Thorpe, the creepy politician at the heart of the story. This was a quintessentially English political and sex scandal in the 1970s that ended Thorpe’s career as leader of the Liberal Party after he was accused of conspiracy to murder one of his former homosexual lovers, Norman Scott. It culminated in a farcical trial, presided over by Sir Joseph Cantley, (not perhaps the sharpest knife in the judicial canteen) in which Thorpe and his alleged accomplices, were acquitted. (The exception was Andrew Newman, one of the most incompetent hit-men of all time — who succeeded only in shooting Scott’s dog and had earlier been convicted of possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life.)
Shortly after the trial, the great comedian Peter Cook did a wonderful parody of Cantley’s summing-up:
UPDATE It seems that the case may be re-opened because of new evidence that Newton may still be alive. (A previous police investigation was terminated because it was believed that he had died.)
Sometimes, one has to marvel at the naïveté and ignorance of the Facebook boss. Yesterday, he gave an off-the-record talk to a group of selected journalists, one of whom (thankfully) was Adrienne LaFrance. Here’s an excerpt from her report:
According to Zuckerberg, the way you find common ground—a common set of facts—is not through professional news outlets, but via individuals. And Facebook, with its 2 billion or so users, has plenty of individuals. But while Zuckerberg said Facebook has begun ranking news outlets by trustworthiness, in person, he didn’t seem to distinguish among the quality of opinions.
“I do think that in general within a news organization there is an opinion,” he said. “I do think that a lot of what you all do is have an opinion and have a view.”
And Facebook, he says, simply “has more opinions.” Show users more opinions, and you give them more options. “It’s not about saying here’s one view; here’s the other side,” Zuckerberg said when I asked him to reconcile the contradiction. “You should decide where you want to be.”
Deciding what to believe based on other people’s opinions is not only not journalistic, it’s arguably hostile to the press as a democratic institution. The truth may be nuanced, but reportable facts are often quite straightforward. As any journalist can tell you, the best answer to the question “what happened?” is not why don’t you ask a bunch of your friends what they think, organize their views along a spectrum, and then decide where to plant yourself.