Tuesday’s Required Reading

1. What Anti-racist Teachers Do Differently.

“I have witnessed countless black students thrive in classrooms where teachers see them accurately and show that they are happy to have them there. In these classes, students choose to sit in the front of the class, take careful notes, shoot their hands up in discussions, and ask unexpected questions that cause the teacher and other classmates to stop and think. Given the chance, they email, text, and call the teachers who believe in them.”

2. The Tesla of masks. How ’bout it Captain?

3. Take this new and improved personality quiz. Isn’t there still a built-in complication–our inherently subjective sense of self?

4. Democratic ad makers think they’ve discovered Trump’s soft spot.

. . . unlike four years ago, they are no longer focusing on his character in isolation — rather they are pouring tens of millions of dollars into ads yoking his behavior to substantive policy issues surrounding the coronavirus, the economy and the civil unrest since the death of George Floyd.”

5. France bans Dutch bike TV ad for ‘creating climate of fear’ about cars’.

6. Corina Newsome: A birder who happens to be Black.

Down Goes Bolton!

If this book review of John Bolton’s tell all was a fight, a ref would’ve stopped it in the early paragraphs.

Early in my academic career, I wrote a lot of book reviews. Overtime, I only agreed to review books that I liked since telling people not to read a particular book didn’t feel like a constructive use of time.

Fortunately, Jennifer Szalai of The New York Times does not share my philosophy.

Her take-down of Bolton is exquisite. Her intro tweet to her review is an appetizer of sort:

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The highlights, or if you’re John Bolton, lowlights:

“The book is bloated with self-importance, even though what it mostly recounts is Bolton not being able to accomplish very much. It toggles between two discordant registers: exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged.”

Szalai on Bolton’s impeachment dodge:

“‘Had I testified,’ Bolton intones, ‘I am convinced, given the environment then existing because of the House’s impeachment malpractice, that it would have made no significant difference in the Senate outcome.’ It’s a self-righteous and self-serving sort of fatalism that sounds remarkably similar to the explanation he gave years ago for preemptively signing up for the National Guard in 1970 and thereby avoiding service in Vietnam. ‘Dying for your country was one thing,’ he wrote in his 2007 book ‘Surrender Is Not an Option’, ‘but dying to gain territory that antiwar forces in Congress would simply return to the enemy seemed ludicrous to me.'”

The finishing touch:

“When it comes to Bolton’s comments on impeachment, the clotted prose, the garbled argument and the sanctimonious defensiveness would seem to indicate some sort of ambivalence on his part — a feeling that he doesn’t seem to have very often. Or maybe it merely reflects an uncomfortable realization that he’s stuck between two incompatible impulses: the desire to appear as courageous as those civil servants who bravely risked their careers to testify before the House; and the desire to appease his fellow Republicans, on whom his own fastidiously managed career most certainly depends. It’s a strange experience reading a book that begins with repeated salvos about ‘the intellectually lazy’ by an author who refuses to think through anything very hard himself.”

Szalai with the technical knock out.

Trump Puts Nation on Alert for Terrorists Posing as Peaceful Seventy-Five-Year-Olds

Trump is keeping Andy Borowitz busy:

“Trump listed some ‘telltale signs of Antifa,’ in order to help Americans identify septuagenarian terrorists in their midst.

‘If the person appears to be seventy-five or older, with white hair and a peaceful demeanor, call the authorities immediately,’ Trump said.

He warned that Antifa terrorists are infiltrating American society ‘everywhere,’ even on Zoom.

‘If you are on Zoom with your family and an elderly person suddenly appears with a friendly smile, a string of pearls, and the nickname ‘Grandma,’ you have been attacked by Antifa,’ he said.”

 

Help Isn’t Coming

David Brooks, arch-conservative, “If We Had a Real Leader—Imagining Covid under a normal president.

Astute conclusion:

“One of the lessons of this crisis is that help isn’t coming from some centralized place at the top of society. If you want real leadership, look around you.”

Related. “Fact check: Breaking down Trump’s 654 false claims over 14 weeks during the coronavirus pandemic.

Help me out here. Is he incapable of telling the truth or is there a method to his mendacity?

I lean to towards the latter. Tell enough lies in the hope that people tire of distinguishing between what’s true and what’s not. That’s why Daniel Dale’s work, as nonstop fact-checker, is vitally important. And November, 3, 2020.

Trump’s Second Term

Sunday night, after the rain clouds parted, Blanca and I headed due West like we were shot out of a cannon. Up and over the 4th St Bridge, she wanted to see Oyster Bay. We added on Ellison Loop NW for a little more climbing. That wall at the very end is a bitch, but I digress.

A beautiful night for a fling with your gfriend. Until we saw FOUR houses in a row with Trump/Pence signs. Trump’s gonna carry Oyster Bay?

No big deal you say, Washington is dark blue, no reason to let a few right wing nutters ruin a glorious ride.

But then, after we ducked into the driveway right before sunset, I finished reading Evan Osnos’s smartly written, “How Greenwich Republicans Learned to Love Trump.

Which is filled with insights into things I don’t understand. Like this:

“The (college) admissions case reminded me of the rationale I kept hearing for looking past Trump’s behavior toward women, minorities, immigrants, war heroes, the F.B.I., democracy, and the truth, not to mention his request that Ukraine “do us a favor” by investigating his political opponents: a conviction that, ultimately, nothing matters more than cutting taxes and regulations and slowing immigration.”

Osnos disabuses people like me that Trump’s base is just gun-toting, stay-at-home protesting, working class, modestly educated, rural people. Trump has massive support among the ultra wealthy, like Michael Mason, a mover and shaker in Greenwich, Connecticut, probably the wealthiest enclave in the (dis)United States:

“Mason knows that the President’s ‘culture’ still upsets many people in Greenwich. But, he said, ‘his policies over the last three years have gained more attention and probably more support.’ He predicts that the trauma of the pandemic will persuade some voters that Trump was right to want to cut immigration and lure back industries from abroad. ‘He had policies that he wanted to change on our borders, on immigration. I certainly think people in this country now are worried about that.'”

The Resistance is deluded to think this pandemic shitshow is going to ruin his chance at re-election.

Another depressing insight:

“If you are among the Greenwich élite, whether you love Trump or hate him, it is easy to count the ways that he has oriented his Administration to help people like you. When Trump introduced his tax bill, he called it a gift to ‘the folks who work in the mail rooms and the machine shops of America.’ That was absurd. The bill cut the corporate tax rate by fourteen per cent, and most of the windfall went to investors in the form of dividends and stock buybacks. . . . Though he limited the deductions for state and local taxes, wealthy citizens were compensated by new tax breaks, including some specifically for the commercial-real-estate industry and for wealthy heirs. On average, Trump gave households in the top one per cent a forty-eight-thousand-dollar tax cut, while those in the bottom twenty per cent received a hundred and twenty dollars, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a nonpartisan think tank. Jim Campbell, the Republican organizer who embraced Trump early in 2016, told me recently, ‘I don’t know anyone who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and won’t vote for him again. In Greenwich, he’ll probably pick up some votes.'”

I never thought the country would elect Trump president. Since 2016, his supporters have become less afraid, less self conscious, and more outspoken. Now, for the first time, I’m bracing myself for the fact that my friend, who promises “100% that Trump is going to be reelected”, may very well be right.

Thanks for that Osnos.

 

 

 

Friday Assorted Links

1. At virtual Family Chapel, the ‘spiritual but not religious’ find community during pandemic. Eldest is featured, making me even more famous.

2. Why Trump Was Deaf To All The Warnings He Received. Incuriosity and paranoia.

3. Colleges could lose up to 20 percent of students.

“Ten percent of college-bound seniors who had planned to enroll at a four-year college before the COVID-19 outbreak have already made alternative plans. Fourteen percent of college students said they were unlikely to return to their current college or university in the fall, or it was “too soon to tell.” Exactly three weeks later, in mid-April, that figure had gone up to 26 percent. Gap years may be gaining in popularity. While hard to track, there are estimates that 3 percent of freshmen take a gap year. Since the pandemic, internet searches for gap years have skyrocketed. College students do not like the online education they have been receiving. To finish their degrees, 85 percent want to go back to campus, but 15 percent want to finish online.”

4. The Grumpy Economist on University finances, particularly endowments. Sign of the seriousness of things, belt tightening ahead even for the uber wealthy.

“University endowment practices are quite a puzzle. . . . Why are they invested in obscure, illiquid, hard to value, assets, with at least two layers of high fees (university management + asset managers) rather than, say, have one part-time employee and put the whole business into Vanguard total market for about 10 basis points? Why do they leverage with short-term municipal debt which must be rolled over at the most inconvenient times? Why do university presidents seem to glory in great endowment returns in good times, but these occasional liquidity crunches are seen simply as acts of nature, not preventable with a nice pile of liquid assets? Why do donors put up with this — why do donors give money that will be managed in obscure high fee investments, rather than demand low-fee transparent investment, or even set up separate trusts, transparently managed, to benefit their alma maters?”

A flurry of great questions. The short answer to the first question I suspect is because investment managers’ think they’re smart enough to pick stock winners when history suggests otherwise.

An addendum suggests I’ve nailed it:

“Where are the trustees? Well, I speculated to one correspondent, there is a natural selection bias. How do you get to be a university trustee? 1) Make a ton of money as a (lucky) active asset manager, especially on trades and investments that come from college contacts;  2) Collect a lot of fees;  3) Persuade yourself how smart you are and how easy the alpha game is 4) Desire to socialize with the people who run universities. This is hardly likely to produce contrarians, fans of scientifically validated, quantitative, low-fee investment strategies.”

5. The Real Story Behind That Viral Photo of President Johnson During the Vietnam War. In praise of thoroughness and media literacy.

“. . . President Johnson wasn’t crying over thousands of dead American soldiers in the photo. Johnson is actually listening to an audio tape that was created by Captain Charles “Chuck” Robb, his son-in-law. That detail would allow the casual viewer to assume that LBJ was distressed to hear the recording, but it seems that so many of the documentary filmmakers who use this image haven’t bothered to look at the other photos taken during that same time in the White House.”

 

260,000 Words Later

The New York Times has analyzed every word the President has uttered during his daily press conferences/campaign rallies. Equivalent to a 700-page book.

Some context from Charles Duhigg in The New Yorker:

“During the H1N1 outbreak of 2009—which caused some twelve thousand American deaths, infections in every state, and seven hundred school closings—Besser and his successor at the C.D.C., Dr. Tom Frieden, gave more than a hundred press briefings. President Barack Obama spoke publicly about the outbreak only a few times, and generally limited himself to telling people to heed scientific experts and promising not to let politics distort the government’s response. ‘The Bush Administration did a good job of creating the infrastructure so that we can respond,’ Obama said. . . . At no time did Obama recommend particular medical treatments, nor did he forecast specifics about when the pandemic would end.”

One of The Times conclusions:

“. . . the self-aggrandizement is singular for an American leader. But his approach is even more extraordinary because he is taking credit and demanding affirmation while he asks people to look beyond themselves and bear considerable hardship to help slow the spread of the virus.

“He doesn’t speak the language of transcendence, what we have in common,” said Jennifer Mercieca, a historian of American political rhetoric at Texas A&M University. Instead, Dr. Mercieca said, he falls back on a vocabulary he developed over decades promoting himself and his business.

“Trump’s primary goal is to spread good news and information and market the Trump brand: ‘Trump is great. The Trump brand is great. The Trump presidency is great,’ she said. “It’s not the right time or place to do that.”

“Transcendence”, shit, the nation would settle for silence.

Another:

“The coronavirus briefings have often contained the same phrases and themes that he used in his 2016 race.

“It’s consistent with the way he campaigned when he said, ‘I alone can fix it,’” said John Murphy, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who studies the rhetoric of American presidents and politicians.

Dr. Murphy said that most presidents avoid taking personal credit because they appreciate the fact that Americans can draw the connection themselves between presidential leadership and the country’s successes.

With Mr. Trump, there is no such subtlety. “The level of self-congratulations that occurs every day at these press conferences is unprecedented,” Dr. Murphy added.”

I’ve been wondering, what would my dad think about the President? He was a free-market capitalist, a successful businessperson, lived in Florida, and leaned right. Despite all of that, I’m convinced he’d be damn near as critical of him as me because he couldn’t stand self-promoters.

He grew up poor, during the Depression, in Eastern Montana. Sometimes in the West self-promoters are said to be,”All hat, no cattle.” Dad was “All cattle, no hat.”

When I was a young professor, the President at my college resigned. He wrote a letter for the campus community that detailed his accomplishments. I was impressed, dad was anything but. Why? Because of John Murphy’s insight—he trusted that people could draw the connections themselves between leadership and a business’s or university’s success.