Archive for the ‘Bruni’ Category

Brooks, Nocera and Bruni

April 15, 2014

In “A Long Obedience” Bobo gurgles that we often hear the story of Passover as a tale of liberation, but its richest core truth is one of joyful obedience.  “Stu Freeman” of Brooklyn, NY had this to say in the comments:  “Only a Republican could come up with a biblical interpretation like this: “‘Shut Up And Do As I Tell You’ said Moses to the Hebrews.” And the rich and the powerful inherited the earth and made the laws that the rest of us must follow. Thank you, David.”  I’ll warn you – Bobo uses the phrase “sweet compulsion” toward the end of his gurgling…  Mr. Nocera, in “C.E.O. Pay Goes Up, Up and Away!”, says so much for getting executive compensation under control.  Mr. Bruni ponders “The Oldest Hatred, Forever Young” and says well beyond Kansas, anti-Semitism persists.  Here, FSM help us, is Bobo:

Monday night was the start of Passover, the period when Jews celebrate the liberation of the Israelites from slavery into freedom.

This is the part of the Exodus story that sits most easily with modern culture. We like stories of people who shake off the yoke of oppression and taste the first bliss of liberty. We like it when masses of freedom-yearning people gather in city squares in Beijing, Tehran, Cairo or Kiev.

But that’s not all the Exodus story is, or not even mainly what it is. When John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin wanted to put Moses as a central figure on the Great Seal of the United States, they were not celebrating him as a liberator, but as a re-binder. It wasn’t just that he led the Israelites out of one set of unjust laws. It was that he re-bound them with another set of laws. Liberating to freedom is the easy part. Re-binding with just order and accepted compulsion is the hard part.

America’s founders understood that when you are creating a social order, the first people who need to be bound down are the leaders themselves.

The Moses of Exodus is not some majestic, charismatic, Charlton Heston-type hero who can be trusted to run things. He’s a deeply flawed person like the rest of us. He’s passive. He’s afraid of snakes. He’s a poor speaker. He whines, and he’s sometimes angry and depressed. He’s meek.

The first time Moses tries to strike out against Egyptian oppression, he does it rashly and on his own, and he totally messes it up. He sees an Egyptian soldier cruelly mistreating a Hebrew slave. He looks this way and that, to make sure nobody is watching. Then he kills the Egyptian and hides his body in the sand.

It’s a well-intentioned act of just rebellion, but it’s done without order, a plan or a strategy. Even the Israelites don’t admire it. They just think Moses is violent and impetuous. Moses has to flee into exile. The lesson some draw is that even well-motivated acts of liberation have to be done under the structure of control and authority.

Even after he’s summoned to lead his people at the burning bush, Moses has still not fully learned this lesson. He rushes off to his task, but he doesn’t pause to circumcise his son — the act that symbolizes the covenant with God. A leader who isn’t himself obedient to the rules is not going to be effective, so God tries to kill Moses. Fortunately, Moses’s wife, Zipporah, grabs a sharp stone and does the deed.

This is a vision of obedient leadership. Leaders in the ancient world, like leaders today, tried to project an image of pompous majesty and mastery. But Moses was to exemplify the quality of “anivut.” Anivut, Rabbi Norman Lamm once wrote, “means a soft answer to a harsh challenge; silence in the face of abuse; graciousness when receiving honor; dignity in response to humiliation; restraint in the presence of provocation; forbearance and quiet calm when confronted with calumny and carping criticism.”

Just as leaders need binding, so do regular people. The Israelites in Exodus whine; they groan; they rebel for petty reasons. When they are lost in a moral wilderness, they immediately construct an idol to worship and give meaning to their lives.

But Exodus is a reminder that statecraft is soulcraft, that good laws can nurture better people. Even Jews have different takes on how exactly one must observe the 613 commandments, but the general vision is that the laws serve many practical and spiritual purposes. For example, they provide a comforting structure for daily life. If you are nervous about the transitions in your life, the moments when you go through a door post, literally or metaphorically, the laws will give you something to do in those moments and ease you on your way.

The laws tame the ego and create habits of deference by reminding you of your subordination to something permanent. The laws spiritualize matter, so that something very normal, like having a meal, has a sacred component to it. The laws build community by anchoring belief in common practices. The laws moderate religious zeal; faith is not expressed in fiery acts but in everyday habits. The laws moderate the pleasures; they create guardrails that are meant to restrain people from going off to emotional or sensual extremes.

The 20th-century philosopher Eliyahu Dessler wrote, “the ultimate aim of all our service is to graduate from freedom to compulsion.” Exodus provides a vision of movement that is different from mere escape and liberation. The Israelites are simultaneously moving away and being bound upward. Exodus provides a vision of a life marked by travel and change but simultaneously by sweet compulsions, whether it’s the compulsions of love, friendship, family, citizenship, faith, a profession or a people.

One wonders how many of the mitzvot Bobo feels “sweetly compelled” to actually follow.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

At 79, Graef “Bud” Crystal is the grand old man of executive compensation critics. Once a top compensation consultant, he switched sides in the 1980s, becoming a fierce critic of many of the practices he helped institutionalize, and analyzing executive pay for other media like Fortune and, most recently, Bloomberg News. He’s been known to call his second career “atoning for my sins.”

The other day, Crystal was recalling what it used to be like trying to cobble together pay information about a chief executive based on reading the disclosure documents required by the Securities and Exchange Commission. There was no rhyme or reason to the way the numbers were put together, and shareholders were often left scratching their heads.

“I remember writing an article for Fortune in the late 1980s, using Goizueta’s pay at Coca-Cola,” Crystal told me. (Roberto Goizueta was the chief executive of Coke from 1981 until his death in 1997.) The proxy statement showed that he made $800,000 that year in salary. But about 15 pages later, it showed that he had received an additional $56 million in stock options. Except that, instead of being written numerically, the option grant was spelled out, thus easy to overlook. “It was deliberate obfuscation,” said Crystal.

For the most part, it isn’t like that anymore. In the mid-2000s, the S.E.C. passed rules forcing companies to place all the compensation information for top executives in one place. There were people who thought that this effort at pay “transparency” would help get C.E.O. compensation under control — in effect shaming compensation committees and chief executives from letting executive pay get any more out of hand than it already was.

Not exactly how it turned out, is it?

On Sunday, The New York Times published its annual list of the compensation of the top executives at the 100 largest publicly traded American companies. (The survey is conducted by Equilar for The Times.) Topping the list, as he often has, was Larry Ellison, the chief executive of Oracle, who, despite being the world’s fifth-wealthiest person, raked in an additional $78.4 million in 2013, a combination of cash, stock and stock options. That was more than twice as much as the second and third place finishers, Robert Iger of Disney and Rupert Murdoch of 21st Century Fox. Not that they had anything to complain about, at $34.3 million and $26.1 million respectively.

The Times reported that the median compensation for C.E.O.’s in 2013 was $13.9 million, a 9 percent increase from 2012. The Wall Street Journal, which did its own, smaller survey a few weeks earlier, described the 2013 pay increases as representing “moderate growth.”

Nell Minow, another longtime critic of corporate governance and executive compensation practices, told me that the last time she harbored hope that executive pay might be brought under control was 1993. That was the year that Congress passed a bill capping cash compensation at $1 million. But the law also exempted pay that was based on “performance.”

Two things resulted. “Immediately, everybody got a raise to $1 million,” said Minow. And, second, company boards began setting performance measures that were easy to clear — and larding pay packages with huge stock option grants. “I hadn’t realized how easy it would be to manipulate performance measures,” Minow said.

Since then, nothing has stopped executive compensation from rising. When the market fell after the financial crisis, many companies gave their chief executives big option grants to “make up for” what they’d lost. When performance measures were toughened, chief executives responded by demanding larger grants because they were taking more “risk.”

It’s a rigged game. When the company’s stock goes up, says Crystal, the chief executive views himself as a hero. And when it goes down, “it’s Janet Yellen’s or Barack Obama’s fault.”

Plus, there’s simple greed. When I asked Crystal about Ellison’s pay package, he laughed. “There are billionaires like Warren Buffett and Larry Page who don’t pig out,” he said. (As the chief executive of Google, co-founder Page takes a $1 annual salary.) “But there are others who can’t keep their hands off the dough. Ellison is in that category.”

Soon enough, the S.E.C. is going to require yet another disclosure. As a result of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, companies will have to publish a ratio comparing the chief executive’s pay to the median pay of the company’s employees. At most large American corporations, the ratio is likely to be very high, hinting at how corrosive these huge executive pay packages have become, and the degree to which they play a role in furthering income inequality, a point made in “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the new book by Thomas Piketty, the economist. The ratio is going to make people mad.

But will it reduce executive pay? We already know the answer to that.

And now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Most of the hate crimes in the United States don’t take the fatal form that the shootings in Kansas over the weekend did, and most aren’t perpetrated by villains as bloated with rage and blinded by conspiracy theories as the person accused in this case, Frazier Glenn Miller. He’s an extreme, not an emblem.

This is someone who went on Howard Stern’s radio show four years ago (why, Howard, did you even hand him that megaphone?) and called Adolf Hitler “the greatest man who ever walked the earth.” When Stern asked Miller whether he had more intense antipathy for Jews or for blacks (why that question?), Miller chose the Jews, definitely the Jews, “a thousand times more,” he said.

“Compared to our Jewish problem, all other problems are mere distractions,” he declaimed, and he apparently wasn’t just spouting off. He was gearing up.

On Sunday, according to the police, he drove to a Jewish community center in Overland Park, Kan., and opened fire, then moved on to a nearby Jewish retirement home and did the same. Three people were killed.

They were Christian, as it happens. When hatred is loosed, we’re all in the crossfire.

On Monday, as law enforcement officials formally branded what happened in Kansas a hate crime, I looked at the spectrum of such offenses nationally: assault, intimidation, vandalism.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation keeps statistics, the most recent of which are for 2012. In the United States that year there were 6,573 hate-crime incidents reported to the bureau (a fraction, no doubt, of all that occurred). While most were motivated by race, about 20 percent were motivated by the victims’ perceived religion — roughly the same percentage as those motivated by the victims’ presumed sexual orientation. I didn’t expect a number that high.

Nor did I expect this: Of the religion-prompted hate crimes, 65 percent were aimed at Jews, a share relatively unchanged from five years earlier (69 percent) and another five before that (65 percent). In contrast, 11 percent of religious-bias crimes in 2012 were against Muslims.

Our country has come so far from the anti-Semitism of decades ago that we tend to overlook the anti-Semitism that endures. We’ve moved on to fresher discussions, newer fears.

Following 9/11, there was enormous concern that all Muslims would be stereotyped and scapegoated, and this heightened sensitivity lingers. It partly explains what just happened at Brandeis University. The school had invited Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a celebrated advocate for Muslim women, to receive an honorary degree. But when some professors and students complained, citing statements of hers that seemed broadly derisive of Islam, the invitation was withdrawn. Clearly, university officials didn’t want their campus seen as a cradle or theater of Islamophobia.

But other college campuses in recent years have been theaters of anti-Israel discussions that occasionally veer toward, or bleed into, condemnations of Jews. And while we don’t have the anti-Semitism in our politics that some European countries do, there’s still bigotry under the surface. There are still caricatures that won’t die.

One of them flared last month on the Christian televangelist Pat Robertson’s TV show. His guest was a rabbi who, shockingly, was himself trafficking in the notion that Jews excel at making money. The rabbi said that a Jew wouldn’t squander a weekend tinkering with his car when he could hire a mechanic and concentrate on something else.

“It’s polishing diamonds, not fixing cars,” Robertson interjected.

Polishing diamonds?

In a 2013 survey of 1,200 American adults for the Anti-Defamation League, 14 percent agreed with the statement that “Jews have too much power” in our country, while 15 percent said Jews are “more willing to use shady practices” and 30 percent said that American Jews are “more loyal to Israel” than to the United States.

That’s disturbing, as is the way in which the Holocaust is minimized by its repeated invocation as an analogy. In separate comments this year, both the venture capitalist Tom Perkins and Kenneth Langone, one of the founders of Home Depot, said that the superrich in America were being vilified the way Jews in Nazi Germany had been.

It’s not just Kansas and the heartland where anti-Semitism, sometimes called the oldest hatred, stays young.

A story in The Times last year focused on an upstate New York community in which three Jewish families filed suit against the school district, citing harassment of Jewish students by their peers. The abuse included Nazi salutes and swastikas drawn on desks, on lockers, on a playground slide.

When a parent complained in 2011, the district’s superintendent responded, in an email: “Your expectations for changing inbred prejudice may be a bit unrealistic.”

Well, the only way to breed that prejudice out of the generations to come is never to shrug our shoulders like that — and never to avert our eyes.

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman, Kristof and Bruni

April 13, 2014

The Pasty Little Putz has extruded something called “Diversity and Dishonesty” in which he whines that Mozilla and Brandeis may preach pluralism, but it’s a sham.  “Gemli” from Boston had this to say in the comments:  “There may be a reason that certain institutions “…support diversity, but only as the left defines it.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard the right’s definition of diversity, unless it’s their tendency to treat everyone who doesn’t look like them with equal disdain.”  MoDo, in “A Wit for All Seasons,” says with a quicksilver wit and basic decency, Colbert’s the real deal.  This may be the first column in years where she doesn’t take a gratuitous slap at Obama or Clinton.  The Moustache of Wisdom says “Go Ahead, Vladimir, Make My Day.”  He opines that a Russian gas embargo might be just what the world needs. Seriously.  “Victor” in Cold Spring, NY had this to say:  “Whoa! That’s some pretty tough talk there “Dirty Tommy”. I’m sure you got Vlad shaking in his boots at the prospect of the west going solar in retaliation for a brutal annexation of Ukraine through gas pipeline extortion. This is like some junior high-schooler’s mixed metaphor.”  Mr. Kristof, in “A Loyal Soldier Doesn’t Deserve This,” says here’s a veteran who risked his life and sacrificed his mind for his country. He asks what are we doing for him in return?  Mr. Bruni considers “Women’s Unequal Lot” and says the 77-cent figure so loosely tossed around misrepresents the pay gap and its roots.  Here’s The Putz:

Earlier this year, a column by a Harvard undergraduate named Sandra Y. L. Korn briefly achieved escape velocity from the Ivy League bubble, thanks to its daring view of how universities should approach academic freedom.

Korn proposed that such freedom was dated and destructive, and that a doctrine of “academic justice” should prevail instead. No more, she wrote, should Harvard permit its faculty to engage in “research promoting or justifying oppression” or produce work tainted by “racism, sexism, and heterosexism.” Instead, academic culture should conform to left-wing ideas of the good, beautiful and true, and decline as a matter of principle “to put up with research that counters our goals.”

No higher-up at Harvard endorsed her argument, of course. But its honesty of purpose made an instructive contrast to the institutional statements put out in the immediate aftermath of two recent controversies — the resignation of the Mozilla Foundation’s C.E.O., Brendan Eich, and the withdrawal, by Brandeis University, of the honorary degree it had promised to the human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

In both cases, Mozilla and Brandeis, there was a striking difference between the clarity of what had actually happened and the evasiveness of the official responses to the events. Eich stepped down rather than recant his past support for the view that one man and one woman makes a marriage; Hirsi Ali’s invitation was withdrawn because of her sweeping criticisms of Islamic culture. But neither the phrase “marriage” nor the word “Islam” appeared in the initial statements Mozilla and Brandeis released.

Instead, the Mozilla statement rambled in the language of inclusion: “Our organizational culture reflects diversity and inclusiveness. … Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions. …”

The statement on Hirsi Ali was slightly more direct, saying that “her past statements … are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.” But it never specified what those statements or those values might be — and then it fell back, too, on pieties about diversity: “In the spirit of free expression that has defined Brandeis University throughout its history, Ms. Hirsi Ali is welcome to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues.”

What both cases illustrate, with their fuzzy rhetoric masking ideological pressure, is a serious moral defect at the heart of elite culture in America.

The defect, crucially, is not this culture’s bias against social conservatives, or its discomfort with stinging attacks on non-Western religions. Rather, it’s the refusal to admit — to others, and to itself — that these biases fundamentally trump the commitment to “free expression” or “diversity” affirmed in mission statements and news releases.

This refusal, this self-deception, means that we have far too many powerful communities (corporate, academic, journalistic) that are simultaneously dogmatic and dishonest about it — that promise diversity but only as the left defines it, that fill their ranks with ideologues and then claim to stand athwart bias and misinformation, that speak the language of pluralism while presiding over communities that resemble the beau ideal of Sandra Y. L. Korn.

Harvard itself is a perfect example of this pattern: As Patrick Deneen of Notre Dame pointed out when the column was making waves, Korn could only come up with one contemporary example of a Harvardian voice that ought to be silenced — “a single conservative octogenarian,” the political philosophy professor Harvey Mansfield. Her call for censorship, Deneen concluded, “is at this point almost wholly unnecessary, since there are nearly no conservatives to be found at Harvard.”

I am (or try to be) a partisan of pluralism, which requires respecting Mozilla’s right to have a C.E.O. whose politics fit the climate of Silicon Valley, and Brandeis’s right to rescind degrees as it sees fit, and Harvard’s freedom to be essentially a two-worldview community, with a campus shared uneasily by progressives and corporate neoliberals, and a small corner reserved for token reactionary cranks.

But this respect is difficult to maintain when these institutions will not admit that this is what is going on. Instead, we have the pretense of universality — the insistence that the post-Eich Mozilla is open to all ideas, the invocations of the “spirit of free expression” from a school that’s kicking a controversial speaker off the stage.

And with the pretense, increasingly, comes a dismissive attitude toward those institutions — mostly religious — that do acknowledge their own dogmas and commitments, and ask for the freedom to embody them and live them out.

It would be a far, far better thing if Harvard and Brandeis and Mozilla would simply say, explicitly, that they are as ideologically progressive as Notre Dame is Catholic or B. Y.U. is Mormon or Chick-fil-A is evangelical, and that they intend to run their institution according to those lights.

I can live with the progressivism. It’s the lying that gets toxic.

If anyone knows about lying it’s a Republican…  Here’s MoDo:

I don’t remember much about being on Stephen Colbert’s show.

It all passed in a blur of fear.

I remember him coming into the makeup room to remind me that he was going to be in character as a jerk.

I remember that he held up my book about gender and asked if it was “soft-core porn.”

I remember he asked me if I wanted to hold his Peabody and I told him I did, so he jumped up to grab the TV award from the mantel.

The experience reminded me of a 1937 musical called “A Damsel in Distress,” where Fred Astaire guided Joan Fontaine, clearly not a dancer, around a lawn, soaring for both of them.

Colbert was as quicksilver with his wit as Fred was with his feet. And like Astaire’s more talented partner Ginger Rogers, who had to dance backward and in heels, Colbert was doing two things at once that were very hard. He was dazzling as a satirist and improv comedian while mimicking a buffoonish right-wing broadcaster.

Jon Stewart once described the level of difficulty to me this way: “It’s as though you’re doing your show in Portuguese.”

The reason “The Colbert Report” worked, Stewart said, when I interviewed the two comics for Rolling Stone in 2006, was that Colbert could act like an obnoxious egoist, but his “basic decency can’t be hidden.”

Colbert is witty and a good interrogator without being twisted, as Johnny Carson was.

He’s inventive, like the comic genius he will replace, but not tortured like David Letterman.

In person, Colbert is a nice guy, but not as monologue-monomaniacal as Jay Leno. Colbert has lived the life of a suburban soccer dad and Catholic Church-going Sunday school teacher in Montclair, N.J., with a beautiful wife he’s nuts about, Evie McGee, and three kids.

He’s not an ingratiating boy next door, like Jimmy Fallon, or a scorchingly candid curmudgeon, like Letterman.

No one, including the CBS president, Les Moonves, and the host himself, is sure what his new show will be like because we’ve so rarely seen Colbert when he wasn’t playing a character.

And it’s a sad double blow, after all. It’s not only Letterman who’s retiring, but the blowhard doppelgänger of Colbert.

Carson was the Walter Lippmann of comedy, wielding enormous influence over the reputations of politicians he mocked. Stewart and Colbert took it a step further. They became Murrow and Cronkite for a generation of young viewers.

It was a measure of how seriously Washington viewed Colbert that in 2007, Rahm Emanuel, then the Democratic Caucus chairman, told freshman Democrats to stay off Colbert’s show. And Colbert has to be the only person who testified before Congress as a bit.

Rush Limbaugh and some other conservatives bristled at news that Colbert was moving to the more mainstream network platform; they know he can be brilliantly effective about the absurdity and doublespeak of politics.

“CBS has just declared war on the heartland of America,” Limbaugh said.

Colbert said in the Rolling Stone interview that his agenda was humor, not social change, noting: “Peter Cook was once asked if he thought that satire had a political effect. He said, ‘Absolutely, the greatest satire of the 20th century was the Weimar cabaret, and they stopped Hitler in his tracks.’ ”

Except for supporting J.F.K., Colbert’s parents were not very political or liberal. Colbert kept a Nixon poster above his office desk. “Nixon was the last liberal president,” he told me. “He supported women’s rights, the environment, ending the draft, youth involvement, and now he’s the boogeyman?”

After his famous appearance at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2006, where he sliced W. so surgically that the speech, which fell flat in the room, went viral on liberal websites, Colbert looked shaken.

“I didn’t want to be subversive,” he told me. “I just wanted to be funny.” He said he was not trying to throw a Molotov cocktail, as a critic charged. He agreed with one of his writers, who told him, “You threw a bottle of grape soda that happened to have a lit rag in the neck, and the room was soaked with gasoline.”

He describes himself as “an omnivore,” who loves everything from “A Man for All Seasons” to “Jackass,” from hip-hop to Ovid in the original Latin.

He had 10 older siblings. But after his father and the two brothers closest to him in age died in a plane crash when he was 10 and the older kids went off to college, he said, he was “pretty much left to himself, with a lot of books.”

He said he loved the “strange, sad poetry” of a song called “Holland 1945” by an indie band from Athens, Ga., called Neutral Milk Hotel and sent me the lyrics, which included this heartbreaking bit:

“But now we must pick up every piece

Of the life we used to love

Just to keep ourselves

At least enough to carry on. . . .

And here is the room where your brothers were born

Indentions in the sheets

Where their bodies once moved but don’t move anymore.”

And now we get to The Moustache of Wisdom:

So the latest news is that President Vladimir Putin of Russia has threatened to turn off gas supplies to Ukraine if Kiev doesn’t pay its overdue bill, and, by the way, Ukraine’s pipelines are the transit route for 15 percent of gas consumption for Europe. If I’m actually rooting for Putin to go ahead and shut off the gas, does that make me a bad guy?

Because that is what I’m rooting for, and I’d be happy to subsidize Ukraine through the pain. Because such an oil shock, though disruptive in the short run, could have the same long-term impact as the 1973 Arab oil embargo — only more so. That 1973 embargo led to the first auto mileage standards in America and propelled the solar, wind and energy efficiency industries. A Putin embargo today would be even more valuable because it would happen at a time when the solar, wind, natural gas and energy efficiency industries are all poised to take off and scale. So Vladimir, do us all a favor, get crazy, shut off the oil and gas to Ukraine and, even better, to all of Europe. Embargo! You’ll have a great day, and the rest of the planet will have a great century.

“Clean energy is at an inflection point,” explains Hal Harvey, C.E.O. of Energy Innovation. “The price reductions in the last five years have been nothing less than spectacular: Solar cells, for example, have dropped in cost by more than 80 percent in the last five years. This trend is underway, if a bit less dramatically, for wind, batteries, solid state lighting, new window technologies, vehicle drive trains, grid management, and more. What this means is that clean energy is moving from boutique to mainstream, and that opens up a wealth of opportunities.”

New houses in California now use one-fourth of the energy they used 25 years ago, added Harvey. Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford are in a contest to make the most efficient pickup — because their customers want to spend less on gasoline — so they are deploying new engines and lighter truck bodies. Texas now has enough wind to power more than 3 million homes. New Jersey generates more solar watts per person than California.

And check out Opower, which just went public. Opower works with utilities and consumers to lower electricity usage and bills using behavioral economics, explained Alex Laskey, the company’s co-founder, at their Arlington, Va., office. They do it by giving people personalized communications that display in simple, clear terms how their own energy usage compares with that of their neighbors. Once people understand where they are wasting energy — and how they compare with their neighbors — many start consuming less. And, as their consumption falls, utilities can meet their customers’ demand without having to build new power plants to handle peak loads a few days of the year. Everybody wins. Opower just signed up the Tokyo Electric Power Company and its 20 million homes.

Putting all its customers together since it was founded in 2007, said Laskey, Opower has already saved about “4 terawatt hours of energy” and expects to be soon saving that annually. The Hoover Dam produces about 4 terawatts hours of energy a year. So we just got a new Hoover Dam — for free — in Arlington, Va.

A gas embargo by Putin would also reinforce the message of the United Nations’ latest climate report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned with greater confidence than ever that human-created carbon emissions are steadily melting more ice, creating more dangerous sea level rise, stressing ecosystems around the globe and creating more ocean acidification, from oceans absorbing more C02, posing “a fundamental challenge to marine organisms and ecosystems.”

Sunday, at 10 p.m. Eastern time, Showtime will begin airing a compelling nine-part series, called “Years of Living Dangerously,” about how environmental and climate stresses affect real people. The first episode features Harrison Ford confronting Indonesian officials about the runaway deforestation in one of their national parks, Don Cheadle following evangelicals in Texas wrestling with the tension between their faith and what is happening to their environment, and this columnist exploring how the prolonged drought in Syria contributed to the uprising there. The ninth episode is an in-depth interview with President Obama on environment and climate issues.

I asked Harrison Ford, a longtime board member of Conservation International, whether working on the documentary left him feeling it was all too late. “It isn’t too late; it can’t be too late,” he said. “Is it too late to teach our kids the difference between right and wrong? If we are not ready to redress something happening on our watch, how can we expect our kids to do something about it?” Remember, he added, “nature will be just fine without us. Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature. That is why we can’t save ourselves without saving nature.”

Ford is right. We can still do this. We are closer to both irreversible dangers on climate and scale solutions on clean tech than people realize. Just a little leadership now by America — or a little scare by Putin — would make a big difference.

Correction: April 12, 2014

I have no idea what the correction is or was, as the Times neglected to actually put it on the web site.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

The only reason he is alive, says Mike Yurchison, is his girlfriend, Leigh Anna Landsberger. She sits with him through endless waits at Veterans Affairs, whispering that he’s smarter than she is even if his brain is damaged. She helps him through his seizures, and she nags him to overcome drug addiction.

Leigh Anna gave Mike, 34, something to live for after his brother, an Iraq veteran confronting similar torment, died of a drug overdose, an apparent suicide. She talked him through his grief after the suicide of another Army buddy, Jake, the one who persuaded them to move to Dallas from their native Ohio.

“If it wasn’t for her, I’d be dead right now,” Mike told me. “It was her that got me to start feeling human.”

Yet the shadow of war is difficult to escape, and a United States veteran still kills himself (or, sometimes, herself) almost once each hour. A few weeks ago, Leigh Anna returned the ring Mike had given to her and called off their engagement. She says she still loves Mike, but she is 26 and full of dreams, and he’s a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury that, for all his intelligence, leaves him speaking slowly and sometimes sounding punch drunk. He muddles his age, forgets his address, struggles to hold a job, and he isn’t getting much help from Veterans Affairs.

“I want a family, and I want a lot of things girls want,” Leigh Anna told me, crying softly. “There are things I’m giving up.”

Leigh Anna has stood by Mike for three and a half years, but how much does a girlfriend sign on for? She isn’t sure what to think now. “I’m taking it a day at a time,” she said.

Iraq is but a fading memory for most Americans, and Afghanistan may soon recede as well. But for countless others like Mike and Leigh Anna, the war continues and will for decades to come.

The Department of Veterans Affairs says that it has made progress in reducing its backlog in processing disability compensation claims, but critics say that is because of the way it defines the backlog — and many hundreds of thousands of veterans are still awaiting decisions.

Likewise, the V.A. has improved suicide prevention work, but, by all accounts, it’s not enough, so that veterans are dying unnecessarily.

Mike signed up to join the Army a month after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 as an act of patriotism. “I wanted to go to war and do my part,” he said. I first wrote about him two years ago in a column about the apparent suicide of his younger brother, Ryan Yurchison, who had looked up to Mike and signed up for the Army after he did.

Then a bit more than a month ago, I heard from Cheryl DeBow, the mother of Ryan and Mike.

“I am fearing I may lose my other son as well,” Ms. DeBow tells me, speaking of Mike. “It it’s becoming déjà vu and truly scares me.”

When Mike went to war he was, like Ryan, strong and healthy. So when he returned, Ms. DeBow couldn’t believe the difference. “When he got off the plane from Iraq, his body was shaking and so stiff when I went to hug him,” she said. “It’s as if he wasn’t there.”

He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. (Of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have been treated by the V.A., 55 percent have been diagnosed with a mental disorder.) He says that military doctors prescribed anxiety medication and painkillers that left him addicted to opiates.

Mike suffers from occasional seizures, in which his mouth foams and he becomes as stiff as a board, stops breathing and turns blue. He never had these before the war, and doctors can’t explain them.

Although his mom and girlfriend worry about suicide risks, Mike told me that the thought has barely crossed his mind. I don’t know whether to believe him. He also said: “This is probably going to sound weird, but with my brother dying, then Jake, I keep feeling death is, like, closing in on me. It’s a horrible feeling. It’s almost like this war had a curse, and if you didn’t die there, you’ll die at home. I don’t know why so many veterans are dying at home.”

Mike is also haunted by a particular incident. On an officer’s order in Iraq, he shot a young girl who the officer feared was wearing a suicide vest. The girl died, blood was everywhere, there was no suicide vest — and Mike was shattered.

So the Iraq war goes on in Mike’s head.

The Department of Veterans Affairs rates him 30 percent disabled and pays him a monthly stipend. Mike is stoical and reluctant to complain, saying he knew the risks when he signed up. He has appealed for a higher fraction of disability payment because he is struggling economically.

That’s common. The unemployment rate for veterans who joined the service after 9/11 is higher than the civilian rate, and the homelessness rate for such veterans is significantly higher than for other adults.

Mike periodically visits V.A. doctors but finds them unhelpful, and he gave up on an addiction program because of a long waiting list. An outside doctor prescribes him medicine to help wean him off opiates (and his family says he is making progress), but he has to pay for the doctor and medicine himself.

As for his mental health, he’s not hopeful. “In a lot of ways, it’s getting worse,” he said.

So the pain lingers in Mike, in Leigh Anna, in Ms. DeBow’s fears for her son — and in so many homes across America. These are the families that sometimes wish the injuries were the obvious ones, the amputations or scars that the public recognizes and honors, rather than mental health concerns that are stigmatizing.

Mike agreed to share his story and be photographed, despite embarrassment and innate reluctance, in hopes that the attention might help other veterans in need of assistance.

There are no simple answers, of course, but we as a country can do so much more for these veterans and their loved ones. If we have the wherewithal to repair armored vehicles, we can at least try to repair the people like Pvt. Mike Yurchison who served in them. “My heart is breaking not just for a second son I could lose,” said Ms. DeBow, “but for all those we will lose as well due to government apathy.”

The goddamn Republicans howl about “supporting the troops” while they cut the budgets that actually might.  To say nothing of sending them off to be cannon fodder because of a pack of lies.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

I dropped in on my sister last week. As usual, I was amazed.

I work a single job; she works three or four. There’s her paid one at an executive search firm, finding and screening candidates for corner offices in the retail industry. Then there are the others.

She spends many hours daily as a combined chauffeur, drill sergeant, cheerleader and emotional nursemaid for her two children and two stepchildren. During my visit, on Wednesday night, our chat was interrupted repeatedly so that she could tangle with her son about an unfinished school essay or field questions from her daughter about softball.

She’s the vice president of her New Jersey township’s board of education, because she feels an obligation to better the community in which her kids live. And she’s hosting our family’s Easter celebration, when 20 of us will descend on her. I could see the extra stress settling in. Like too many women, she frets that the smoothness with which she pulls off a holiday is a verdict on her character, her femininity.

Her husband’s a champ. He pitches in, lavishly. But the buck really does stop with her.

Although she’s had enormous professional success, being a woman has surely constrained her. She chose employment that allows her to telecommute frequently, a necessary aspect of her juggling act.

It’s also entirely possible that some of the positions she has held would have paid her more if she were a man.

But the disparities that she faces are so much more complicated than her salary. Decades into the discussion about how to ensure women’s equality, we have a culture that still places a different set of expectations and burdens on women and that still nudges or even shames them into certain roles.

There was too little recognition of that last week at the White House, where President Obama practiced the timeless political art of oversimplification, reducing a messy reality into a tidy figure and saying that working women make only 77 cents for every dollar that working men earn. He left the impression that this was principally the consequence of direct discrimination in the form of unequal pay for the same job.

Some of it is, and that’s flatly unacceptable.

But most of it isn’t. And the misuse of the 77-cent statistic could actually hurt the important cause of giving women a fair shake, because it allows people who don’t value that goal a way to discredit those of us who do, and because it gives short shrift to dynamics that must be a part of any meaningful, truthful, constructive discussion.

The 77-cent figure speaks to the earnings of all women and all men classified as full-time workers. But it doesn’t adjust for the longer hours that such men generally work. It doesn’t factor in the paychecks of the many men and women who are employed part time.

When all of that comes into play and hourly income is calculated, women make 84 cents for every dollar that men do, according to the Pew Research Center. Even that 16-cent difference, though, isn’t entirely about women earning less money for the same work. It’s influenced by many factors, including the greater percentage of women who slow down their careers because of child-rearing responsibilities and fall behind.

To wit: Among younger women, many of whom have yet to hit that pause button, the hourly “wage gap” is 93 cents on the dollar, according to Pew’s number crunching. Other analyses reach similar conclusions.

In the White House, women made 88 cents for every dollar that men did last year, according to a review by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, and salaries there are determined by hierarchical rank, not managerial discretion. What created the gap wasn’t unequal pay for equal work; it was a concentration of women in lower positions. Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, explained this as if it were some sort of exoneration, when it merely raises other, bigger questions. At 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and elsewhere, why are so many women at the bottom?

PATRIARCHIES, like old habits, die hard. In many arenas, we’re simply accustomed to being led by men. It’s our default, our fallback. With Stephen Colbert’s appointment last week to replace David Letterman, we’ve continued a period of intense shuffling of the late-night chairs, and each one that belonged to a man went to another man. Chelsea Handler is ending her own show; the days when Joan Rivers was a guest host for Johnny Carson are long gone; and on the major networks around midnight, it’s a boys’ club. Women get to tuck in the children, but not the national television audience.

By suggesting that the chief culprit for women’s inferior earnings is discriminatory pay, the 77-cent figure lets too many men off the hook, not forcing them to confront their culpability as bosses who care too little for women’s advancement, as husbands who prioritize their own careers and as fathers who don’t participate fully around the house.

Arlie Russell Hochschild, the sociologist who examined the burden of working women in the book “The Second Shift,” told me that since its publication 25 years ago, men have improved — but not enough. Back then, she said, “If you put a woman’s paid and unpaid labor beside her husband’s, and they both worked full time and had kids under 6, she was working an extra month.” Now, she said, it’s an extra two weeks.

That situation, she cautioned, pertains largely to affluent women. For less affluent ones, the issue is often men who are entirely absent. Equal-pay legislation doesn’t begin to address what these women need.

If we’re concerned about them, if we’re concerned about all working women, we have to talk about child care, flexible hours, paid leave. We have to talk about gender stereotypes and whether they steer women into professions with lower compensation. We have to talk about the choices that women make and which of those they feel muscled into.

Obama acknowledged that much only after he dwelt on the 77 cents. “We got to make it possible for more women to enter high-paying fields,” he said, going on to note, “Fewer than 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies have women at the helm.”

Being at the helm would probably push my sister over the edge. I checked in with her on Friday at noon, by which point she had driven her son to school, attended a board of education meeting elsewhere, returned to her son’s school for a conference and then gone to the doctor to deal with a case of conjunctivitis — in both of her eyes — and a sore throat. She had hoped, but failed, to get her broken eyeglasses fixed somewhere along the way.

“How can I place senior executives when I’m facing my son’s headmaster with glasses at a 45-degree angle on my head and pinkeye?” she said, with the kind of laugh that’s a sob in drag. “I look like a total hot mess.” Or a cautionary tale. Or, to me, a superhero.

Brooks, Nocera and Bruni

April 8, 2014

Bobo has taken it upon himself to tell us “What Suffering Does.”  He gurgles that in a culture obsessed with happiness, we should remember that coming to terms with suffering is instructive to the soul.  “Gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “It’s hard to know exactly what Mr. Brooks is selling in this sermonette, but whenever conservatives wax philosophical about the benefits of suffering, I feel a little uneasy.”  As well you should, gemli, as well you should.  Mr. Nocera considers “G. M.’s Cobalt Crisis” and says how the company handles all the recalls and inquiries will show if anything has changed.  In “The Water Cooler Runs Dry” Mr. Bruni says with so much to watch and read and listen to, we have fewer cultural experiences in common.  Here, FSM help us, is Bobo:

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself in a bunch of conversations in which the unspoken assumption was that the main goal of life is to maximize happiness. That’s normal. When people plan for the future, they often talk about all the good times and good experiences they hope to have. We live in a culture awash in talk about happiness. In one three-month period last year, more than 1,000 books were released on Amazon on that subject.

But notice this phenomenon. When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.

Now, of course, it should be said that there is nothing intrinsically ennobling about suffering. Just as failure is sometimes just failure (and not your path to becoming the next Steve Jobs) suffering is sometimes just destructive, to be exited as quickly as possible.

But some people are clearly ennobled by it. Think of the way Franklin Roosevelt came back deeper and more empathetic after being struck with polio. Often, physical or social suffering can give people an outsider’s perspective, an attuned awareness of what other outsiders are enduring.

But the big thing that suffering does is it takes you outside of precisely that logic that the happiness mentality encourages. Happiness wants you to think about maximizing your benefits. Difficulty and suffering sends you on a different course.

First, suffering drags you deeper into yourself. The theologian Paul Tillich wrote that people who endure suffering are taken beneath the routines of life and find they are not who they believed themselves to be. The agony involved in, say, composing a great piece of music or the grief of having lost a loved one smashes through what they thought was the bottom floor of their personality, revealing an area below, and then it smashes through that floor revealing another area.

Then, suffering gives people a more accurate sense of their own limitations, what they can control and cannot control. When people are thrust down into these deeper zones, they are forced to confront the fact they can’t determine what goes on there. Try as they might, they just can’t tell themselves to stop feeling pain, or to stop missing the one who has died or gone. And even when tranquillity begins to come back, or in those moments when grief eases, it is not clear where the relief comes from. The healing process, too, feels as though it’s part of some natural or divine process beyond individual control.

People in this circumstance often have the sense that they are swept up in some larger providence. Abraham Lincoln suffered through the pain of conducting a civil war, and he came out of that with the Second Inaugural. He emerged with this sense that there were deep currents of agony and redemption sweeping not just through him but through the nation as a whole, and that he was just an instrument for transcendent tasks.

It’s at this point that people in the midst of difficulty begin to feel a call. They are not masters of the situation, but neither are they helpless. They can’t determine the course of their pain, but they can participate in responding to it. They often feel an overwhelming moral responsibility to respond well to it. People who seek this proper rejoinder to ordeal sense that they are at a deeper level than the level of happiness and individual utility. They don’t say, “Well, I’m feeling a lot of pain over the loss of my child. I should try to balance my hedonic account by going to a lot of parties and whooping it up.”

The right response to this sort of pain is not pleasure. It’s holiness. I don’t even mean that in a purely religious sense. It means seeing life as a moral drama, placing the hard experiences in a moral context and trying to redeem something bad by turning it into something sacred. Parents who’ve lost a child start foundations. Lincoln sacrificed himself for the Union. Prisoners in the concentration camp with psychologist Viktor Frankl rededicated themselves to living up to the hopes and expectations of their loved ones, even though those loved ones might themselves already be dead.

Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease. Many people don’t come out healed; they come out different. They crash through the logic of individual utility and behave paradoxically. Instead of recoiling from the sorts of loving commitments that almost always involve suffering, they throw themselves more deeply into them. Even while experiencing the worst and most lacerating consequences, some people double down on vulnerability. They hurl themselves deeper and gratefully into their art, loved ones and commitments.

The suffering involved in their tasks becomes a fearful gift and very different than that equal and other gift, happiness, conventionally defined.

I’ll just bet he “found himself in a bunch of conversations.”  More likely he wrenched a bunch of conversations in the direction he wanted them to go.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

The Chevrolet Cobalt is in many ways the perfect representation of the bad, old days of General Motors, when quality didn’t much matter, market share was more important than profitability, and financial decisions came before design and even safety decisions.

First manufactured in 2004, the car was a clunker from the start. “Owners complained about power steering failures, locks inexplicably opening and closing, doors jamming shut in the rain — even windows falling out,” according to Danielle Ivory and Rebecca R. Ruiz, writing in The Times last week.

And then there was the ignition defect that could cause the power to shut down, which led to a huge recall two months ago — and has spiraled the company into crisis. The more we learn about it — and with a handful of investigations underway, there is much that is not yet known — the worse G.M. looks.

The company apparently knew about the defect as far back as 2001, when it discovered the problem during testing of the Saturn Ion. It saw the problem again in 2004, as the Cobalt was about to be rolled out with the same ignition system. According to documents obtained in congressional investigations, engineers came up with a proposed fix, but it was nixed on the grounds that it was too expensive and would take too much time.

Finally, in 2006, engineers at General Motors appeared to have fixed the problem, but they did so without changing the part number, which is a shocking violation of engineering protocol, wrote Micheline Maynard at Forbes.com. It makes G.M. appear to have been engaged in subterfuge, hiding the fact that its ignition had been defective all those years.

Meanwhile, at least 13 people died in accidents that were clearly the result of the faulty ignition design. There are also another 140 people who died in accidents involving the Cobalt in which the cause is unknown. Yet for more than a decade, General Motors did nothing.

What makes this a particularly difficult crisis for G.M. is that it comes at a time when the company is trying to prove to the world that the old G.M. is dead. With a new chief executive in Mary Barra, 52, and a handful of newly designed cars, G.M. wants the world to believe that it has emerged from its bankruptcy as a smarter, nimbler, more transparent company. And maybe it has. But the Cobalt fiasco does not instill confidence; rather, it reminds people why General Motors had to be saved by the government in the first place.

On the one hand, Barra has met with the families of people who were killed in Cobalt accidents, something the old management would never have done. She has also hired Kenneth Feinberg, who has become famous for parceling out money to victims of 9/11 and the BP oil spill. He has been brought on to help the company figure out how to compensate victims and their families — a tricky bit of business since the company is legally off the hook for any accidents that took place prior to the 2009 bankruptcy. Of the many investigations into the Cobalt, one has been ordered by Barra herself, an internal review aimed at, among other things, answering the question of why General Motors took so long to order a recall. These are all gestures aimed at reinforcing the idea that this G.M. is a different kind of company.

On the other hand, Barra was forced to acknowledge before Congress that she hadn’t even known about the problem until the end of January — just a few weeks after she became the chief executive — when she was informed that the company planned a recall. She told Congress that General Motors was a place that had “silos,” and that information was too often not shared. She said so little of substance during her two days of congressional testimony last week that she came across as stonewalling at times. Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, accused her of presiding over “a culture of cover-up.” These are the kinds of moments that make you wonder if General Motors really has changed.

The Cobalt crisis will eventually fade. Feinberg will figure out how to pay victims. Plaintiffs’ lawyers will sue and settle. The investigations will be completed and the results announced. Presumably some heads will roll.

It is what happens over the ensuing months and years that will tell the tale of whether General Motors is truly a different company or whether this has all been for show. The government has sold its stake in G.M. The company is making money now. It is unquestionably a leaner, less bureaucratic place.

What it now needs to prove is that it makes cars that will cause us all to forget about the Cobalt. That’s when we’ll really know if it has changed.

What should happen is some folks who knew about the faulty switches being indicted for voluntary manslaughter.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

If you’re closing in on 50 but want to feel much, much older, teach a college course. I’m doing that now, at 49, and hardly a class goes by when I don’t make an allusion that prompts my students to stare at me as if I just dropped in from the Paleozoic era.

Last week I mentioned the movie “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” Only one of the 16 students had heard of it. I summarized its significance, riffling through the Depression, with which they were familiar, and Jane Fonda’s career, with which they weren’t. “Barbarella” went sailing over their heads. I didn’t dare test my luck with talk of leg warmers and Ted Turner.

I once brought up Vanessa Redgrave. Blank stares. Greta Garbo. Ditto. We were a few minutes into a discussion of an essay that repeatedly invoked Proust’s madeleine when I realized that almost none of the students understood what the madeleine signified or, for that matter, who this Proust fellow was.

And these are young women and men bright and diligent enough to have gained admission to Princeton University, which is where our disconnect is playing out.

The bulk of that disconnect, obviously, is generational. Seemingly all of my students know who Gwyneth Paltrow is. And with another decade or two of reading and living and being subjected to fossils like me, they’ll assemble a richer inventory of knowledge and trivia, not all of it present-day.

But the pronounced narrowness of the cultural terrain that they and I share — the precise limits of the overlap — suggests something additional at work. In a wired world with hundreds of television channels, countless byways in cyberspace and all sorts of technological advances that permit each of us to customize his or her diet of entertainment and information, are common points of reference dwindling? Has the personal niche supplanted the public square?

Both literally and figuratively, the so-called water-cooler show is fading fast, a reality underscored by a fact that I stumbled across in last week’s edition of The New Yorker: In the mid-1970s, when the sitcom “All in the Family” was America’s top-rated television series, more than 50 million people would tune in to a given episode. That was in a country of about 215 million.

I checked on the No. 1 series for the 2012-13 television season. It was “NCIS,” an episode of which typically drew fewer than 22 million people, even counting those who watched a recording of it within a week of its broadcast. That’s out of nearly 318 million Americans now.

“NCIS” competes against an unprecedented bounty of original programming and more ways to see new and old shows than ever, what with cable networks, subscription services, YouTube, Apple TV and Aereo. Yahoo just announced that it was jumping into the fray and, like Netflix and Amazon, would develop its own shows.

In movies, there’s a bevy of boutique fare that never even opens in theaters but that you can order on demand at home. In music, streaming services and Internet and satellite radio stations showcase a dizzying array of songs and performers, few of whom attain widespread recognition. In books, self-publishing has contributed to a marked rise in the number of titles, but it doesn’t take an especially large crowd of readers for a book to become a best seller. Everyone’s on a different page.

With so very much to choose from, a person can stick to one or two preferred micro-genres and subsist entirely on them, while other people gorge on a completely different set of ingredients. You like “Housewives”? Savor them in multiple cities and accents. Food porn? Stuff yourself silly. Vampire fiction? The vein never runs dry.

I brought up this Balkanization of experience with Hendrik Hartog, the director of the American studies program at Princeton, and he noted that what’s happening in popular culture mirrors what has transpired at many elite universities, where survey courses in literature and history have given way to meditations on more focused themes.

“There’s enormous weight given to specialized knowledge,” he said. “It leaves an absence of connective tissue for students.” Not for nothing, he observed, does his Princeton colleague Daniel Rodgers, an emeritus professor of history, call this the “age of fracture.”

It has enormous upsides, and may be for the best. No single, potentially alienating cultural dogma holds sway. A person can find an individual lens and language through which his or her world comes alive.

And because makers of commercial entertainment don’t have to chase an increasingly apocryphal mass audience, they can produce cultish gems, like “Girls” on HBO and “Louie” on FX.

But each fosters a separate dialect. Finding a collective vocabulary becomes harder. Although I’m tempted to tell my students that they make me feel like the 2,000-year-old man, I won’t. I might have to fill them in first on Mel Brooks.

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman, Kristof and Bruni

April 6, 2014

In “Health Care Without End” The Pasty Little Putz babbles that Americans will still be arguing about Obamacare in 2030.  He’s wrong again, but that’s nothing new.  MoDo squeals “Bring Me My Dragons!”  She’s been watching TV again, and of course manages to get in her de rigeur slap at Obama.  Same old, same old…  In “Sheldon: Iran’s Best Friend” The Moustache of Wisdom tells us how Sheldon Adelson and Iran are both trying to destroy Israel.  Mr. Kristof tells us of a young woman with a lesson for graduates about the meaning of life in “Her First, And Last, Book.”  Mr. Bruni ponders “The New Gay Orthodoxy” and says the ouster of Mozilla’s chief executive suggests a shrinking room for debate.  Here’s The Putz:

So you think it’s finished? So you think now that enrollment has hit seven million, now that the president has declared the debate over repeal “over,” now that Republican predictions of a swift Obamacare unraveling look a bit like Republican predictions of a Romney landslide, we’re going to stop arguing about health care, stop having the issue dominate the conversation, and turn at last to some other debate instead?

You think it’s over? It’s never over.

I mean, O.K., it will be over in the event of a nuclear war, or a climate apocalypse, or if the robots eventually rise up and overthrow us. (Our capacity for self-destruction is a pre-existing condition that no insurance plan will touch.)

But for the foreseeable future, the health care debate probably isn’t going to get any less intense. Instead, what we’ve watched unfold since 2009 is what we should expect for years, decades, a generation: a grinding, exhausting argument over how to pay for health care in a society that’s growing older, consuming more care, and (especially if current secularizing trends persist) becoming more and more invested in postponing death.

In the near term, this debate will go on because Obamacare has stabilized itself without fully resolving any of its internal problems. The liberal victory lap last week was half-earned: It really was a victory, given the initial website catastrophe, to arrive at seven million enrolled, and that success almost certainly establishes a new coverage baseline for any future overhaul.

But that baseline won’t be anything like universal coverage, and it may fall short of universality by a much larger margin than the law’s supporters hoped. Around a million of the seven million probably won’t make their payments, and many had insurance previously. So even with the new Medicaid enrollees and the twentysomethings added to their parents’ plans, the number of newly insured could end up around three or four or even five million short of the 13 million that the Congressional Budget Office predicted for Obamacare’s first year.

At the same time, the law’s internal structure has been rendered extremely rickety by the administration’s attempts at damage control. Nobody knows what will happen with the various suspended and hollowed-out provisions — whether the employer mandate will ever take effect, whether the individual mandate will be enforced along the lines that its architects argued was necessary for the law to work. And nobody is sure what the pool of enrollees looks like (in terms of age and average health), and what it will mean for premiums next year and beyond.

These realities make it very likely that whatever position Republicans end up taking on a potential Obamacare replacement or reform, by the next presidential election there will be increasingly vocal Democratic constituencies for change — moderates who want to be seen as doing something about rate shock, and liberals looking for a reform (ahem, single payer) that doesn’t leave 30 million Americans uninsured.

Repeal may really be a dead letter, in other words, but don’t be surprised to wake up in 2020 to endless arguments about a reform of the reform of the reform.

And don’t be surprised, either, if the debate over Obamacare is merging, by then, into the yet-more-toxic argument about how to pay for Medicare.

The Medicare debate has been postponed, to some extent, by the recent fiscal consolidation and a slowdown in health care cost inflation. But inflation should rise again as the Obamacare money sluices into the system, and even with a lower rate it would be hard to envision a future for Medicare that doesn’t involve some combination of price controls, benefit reductions and tax increases — all on a much larger scale than the numbers involved in recent debates.

What’s more, the political salience of this debate will rise for the same reason that the costs of Medicare will be rising: because the country will be older over all, and health policy inevitably matters more to the old than to the young.

Which means that the future almost certainly holds more cries of “death panels,” more ads featuring Paul Ryan clones pushing seniors over a cliff, and no doubt as-yet-undreamt-of forms of demagogy. And it means, as well, that if it’s hard to get Washington to focus on other issues now — tax reform, education, family policy, you name it — just wait awhile: It will get much worse.

It’s important to note, of course, that this “worse” will be the result of betterment: our political debates will be consumed by health care because of all that medicine can do for us, and we’ll be arguing about how to sustain what earlier generations would have regarded as a golden age.

But there’s a reason that golden ages can diminish into twilight — because the demands of the present can crowd out the needs of the future, and because what’s required to preserve and sustain is often different, in the end, from what’s required to grow.

He’s such a putz, and so very, very, very predictable.  Now, FSM help us, here’s MoDo:

I’d been hoping to get the flu.

I hadn’t had it in years, and there were so many TV series I’d never seen — “The Wire,” “Breaking Bad,” “House of Cards,” “True Detective” — that required an extended convalescence.

When I finally succumbed to a fever and crumpled in bed a couple of weeks ago with saltines and Gatorade, I grabbed the clicker, murmuring, “Alright, alright, alright.” The only celebrated series I had no interest in was “Game of Thrones.”

I’m not really a Middle-earth sort of girl.

I’d read about George R. R. Martin, the author of “A Song of Ice and Fire,” the fantasy epic about a medieval-style land of Seven Kingdoms and beyond that is the basis of the HBO show. The bearded, portly 65-year-old, raised in Bayonne, N.J., and living in a modest house in Santa Fe, N.M., has been dubbed “the American Tolkien” by Time.

I had no interest in the murky male world of orcs, elves, hobbits, goblins and warrior dwarves. If I was going to watch a period drama, I usually favored ones with strong women in intriguing situations, like “Mad Men,” “The Americans” and “Masters of Sex.”

Besides, “Game of Thrones” sounded too dense and complicated for someone suffering from zombie brain.

How could I fathom the agendas and plotlines of all the plotting lords and ladies and whores and bastards and sellswords of Westeros when even Martin himself has had to sometimes check with one of his superfans to make sure he’s keeping the feuding factions straight?

A 2011 New Yorker profile described the nutty passion of Martin’s fans, how they mercilessly mock him on Web forums for not writing faster, and how they keep track of every word to the point where the author has become paranoid about mistakes, such as when a character’s eyes shift from green to blue.

“My fans point them out to me,” he told the magazine. “I have a horse that changes sex between books. He was a mare in one book and a stallion in the next, or something like that.” He added, “People are analyzing every goddamn line in these books, and if I make a mistake they’re going to nail me on it.”

But after I finished tromping around the bayou with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, I decided to watch one “Game of Thrones” to see what the fuss was about. It is not only the most pirated show on the Internet, but one of President Obama’s favorites — although he hasn’t picked up any good tips about ruthlessly wielding power, either from “Game” or from Maggie Smith’s Countess of Grantham on “Downton Abbey,” another show he raves about.

After a marathon of three seasons of “Game” and the beginning of the fourth, starting this Sunday, I’m ready to forgo reality for fantasy.

Who wants to cover Chris Christie’s petty little revenge schemes in New Jersey once you’ve seen the gory revenge grandeur of the Red Wedding?

Who wants to see W.’s portraits of leaders once you’re used to King Joffrey putting leaders’ heads on stakes?

Who wants to hear Hillary Clinton complain about a media double standard for women once you’ve gotten accustomed to the win-don’t-whine philosophy of Cersei, Daenerys, Melisandre, Margaery, Ygritte, Brienne and Arya? As it turns out, the show not only has its share of strong women, but plenty of lethal ones as well.

It all seems so tame and meaningless in Washington after Westeros. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul wouldn’t survive a fortnight in King’s Landing. Charles Dance’s icy Tywin Lannister, ruling over a kingdom more interested in dismemberment than disgruntled members, would have the Rains of Castamere playing as soon as he saw those pretenders to the throne. As for House Republicans, or should that be the House of Republicans, life would be mercifully short.

I fell so deeply into the brocaded, overripe, incestuous universe — dubbed “ ‘Sopranos’ meets Middle-earth” by showrunner David Benioff — I couldn’t climb out.

I fell hopelessly in love with Peter Dinklage’s sexy dwarf, who is a schemer but a noble one by Lannister standards.

When friends would ask me what they could get me in the way of sustenance while I was sick, I would yell: “BRING ME MY DRAGONS!”

I even toyed with the idea of getting the flying, fire-breathing dragon on the cover of the new Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. The description is irresistible: “This is the remote controlled jet-powered dragon that soars through the air at up to 70 m.p.h. and belches propane-powered flame when on the ground. Proving its prowess before takeoffs or after successful raids, the dragon’s LED eyes can be commanded to glow red while it emits a fiery 3-foot blast of flame from a cleverly concealed propane tank and igniter built into its toothy maw. A miniature turbine engine built into the beast’s chest provides thrust that exits the rear at 500 m.p.h., and uses 1/2 gallon of jet aircraft fuel or kerosene for 10 minute flights. With a head that swivels in the direction of turns, the dragon can climb and dive via wing ailerons and elevators built into its V-tail rudder.”

Of course, no one who knows me thinks I should be in possession of propane gas. And the other impediment to joy, and bar to being the khaleesi and mother of dragons, was the price tag: $60,000. As Daniel Mendelsohn pointed out in The New York Review of Books, “People often talk about Tolkien as Martin’s model, but the deep, Christianizing sentimentality of the worldview expressed in ‘Lord of the Rings’ is foreign to Martin, who has, if anything, a tart Thucycididean appreciation for the way in which political corruption can breed narrative corruption, too.”

Martin’s larger Hundred Years’ War theme echoes Shakespeare. As he has pointed out, “Believe me, the Starks and the Lannisters have nothing on the Capets and Plantagenets.” And as Mendelsohn writes, it is “the way in which the appetite for, and the use and abuse of, power fragments societies and individuals; in a world ruled by might, who is ‘right’?”

When a flattering adviser warns Cersei, the queen regent, that “knowledge is power,” she makes a feint

to cut the man’s throat and then informs him, “Power is power.”

In the new season, Tywin Lannister explains to his grandson what makes a bad king: spending all your time whoring, hunting and drinking; being so gullible you don’t recognize the evil around you; being so pious you fast yourself into an early grave; and assuming that winning and ruling are the same thing.

“A wise king knows what he knows and what he doesn’t,” Tywin explains to the boy. “You’re young. A wise young king listens to his councilors and heeds their advice until he comes of age. The wisest of kings continue to listen to them long afterwards.”

Words to die by.

Don’t ask me why she (or the Times) put in that paragraph break in the middle of a sentence…  Next up we have The Moustache of Wisdom:

It occurred to me the other day that the zealously pro-Israel billionaire Sheldon Adelson and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, actually have one big thing in common. They are both trying to destroy Israel. Adelson is doing it by loving Israel to death and Khamenei by hating Israel to death. And now even Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey inadvertently got drawn into this craziness.

What’s the logic? Very simple. Iran’s leaders want Israel destroyed but have no desire, in my view, to use a nuclear bomb to do it. That would expose them to retaliation and sure death. Their real strategy is more subtle: Do everything possible to ensure that Israel remains in the “occupied territory,” as the U.S. State Department refers to the West Bank, won by Israel in the 1967 war. By supporting Palestinian militants dedicated to destroying any peace process, Tehran hopes to keep Israel permanently mired in the West Bank and occupying 2.7 million Palestinians, denying them any statehood and preventing the emergence of a Palestinian state that might recognize Israel and live in peace alongside it. The more Israel is stuck there, the more Palestinians and the world will demand a “one-state solution,” with Palestinians given the right to vote. The more Israel resists that, the more isolated it becomes.

Iran and its ally Hamas have plenty of evidence that this strategy is working: Israel’s 47-year-old occupation of the West Bank has led it to build more settlements there and in doing so make itself look like the most active colonial power on the planet today. The 350,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank reinforce that view by claiming their presence in the West Bank is not about security but a divinely inspired project to reunite the Jewish people with their biblical homeland.

The result is a growing movement on college campuses and in international organizations to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state because of this occupation. This “B.D.S. movement” — to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel — is gaining adherents not only among non-Jews on American campuses but even within some Hillels, campus Jewish centers.

Iran could not be happier. The more Israel sinks into the West Bank, the more it is delegitimized and isolated, the more the world focuses on Israel’s colonialism rather than Iran’s nuclear enrichment, the more people call for a single democratic state in all of historic Palestine.

And now Iran has an ally: Sheldon Adelson — the foolhardy Las Vegas casino magnate and crude right-wing, pro-Israel extremist. Adelson gave away some $100 million in the last presidential campaign to fund Republican candidates, with several priorities in mind: that they delegitimize the Palestinians and that they avoid any reference to the West Bank as “occupied territories” and any notion that the U.S. should pressure Israel to trade land for peace there. Both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney took the money and played by Sheldon’s rules.

In case you missed it, the R.J.C., the Republican Jewish Coalition, held a retreat last weekend at an Adelson casino in Las Vegas. It was dubbed “the Sheldon Primary.” Republicans lined up to compete for Adelson’s blessing and money, or as Politico put it: “Adelson summoned [Jeb] Bush and Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey, John Kasich of Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin to Las Vegas. … The new big-money political landscape — in which a handful of donors can dramatically alter a campaign with just a check or two — explains both the eagerness of busy governors to make pilgrimages to Las Vegas, and the obsession with divining Adelson’s 2016 leanings.”

Adelson personifies everything that is poisoning our democracy and Israel’s today — swaggering oligarchs, using huge sums of money to try to bend each system to their will.

Christie, in his speech, referred to the West Bank as “occupied territories” — as any knowledgeable American leader would. This, Politico said, “set off murmurs in the crowd.” Some Republican Jews explained to Christie after he finished that he had made a terrible faux pas. (He called something by its true name and in the way the U.S. government always has!) The West Bank should be called “disputed territories” or “Judea and Samaria,” the way hard-line Jews prefer. So, Politico reported, Christie hastily arranged a meeting with Adelson to explain that he misspoke and that he was a true friend of Israel. “The New Jersey governor apologized in a private meeting in the casino mogul’s Venetian office shortly afterward,” Politico reported. It said Adelson “accepted” Christie’s “explanation” and “quick apology.”

Read that sentence over and contemplate it.

I don’t know if Israel has a Palestinian partner for a secure withdrawal from the West Bank, or ever will. But I know this: If Israel wants to remain a Jewish, democratic state, it should be doing everything it can to nurture such a partner or acting unilaterally to get out. Because, I’m certain that when reports about the “Adelson primary” reached the desk of Supreme Leader Khamenei in Tehran, a big smile crossed his face and he said to his aides: “May Allah grant Sheldon a long life. Everything is going according to plan.”

And now we get to Mr. Kristof:

Two years ago, Marina Keegan’s life brimmed with promise. She was graduating with high honors from Yale University, already a precocious writer about to take up a job at The New Yorker.

She had a play that was about to be produced. She had sparked a national conversation about whether graduates should seek meaning or money.

In keeping with that early promise, Keegan’s first book, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” is scheduled to be published in a few days. The title comes from an essay that she wrote in the graduation issue of the Yale newspaper; it was viewed online more than one million times.

The book is a triumph, but also a tragedy — for it’s posthumous.

“I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short,” Keegan wrote in one of her poems. As a senior, she wrote an aching protest on the website of The New York Times about the rush of students into well-paying jobs on Wall Street — not because of innate interest but because that route was lucrative and practical. One-quarter of Yale graduates entering the job market were going into finance or consulting, and Keegan saw this as a surrender of youthful talents and dreams to the altar of practicality.

“Standing outside a freshman dorm, I couldn’t find a single student aspiring to be a banker, but at commencement this May, there’s a 50 percent chance I’ll be sitting next to one,” she wrote. “This strikes me as incredibly sad.”

Keegan recalled being paid $100 to attend a recruiting session at Yale by a hedge fund: “I got this uneasy feeling that the man in the beautiful suit was going to take my Hopes and Dreams back to some lab to figure out the best way to crush them.”

For my part (and Keegan probably would have agreed), I think that we need bankers and management consultants as well as writers and teachers, and there’s something to be said for being practical. Some financiers find fulfillment, and it’s also true that such a person may be able to finance far more good work than a person who becomes an aid worker. Life is complicated.

Yet Keegan was right to prod us all to reflect on what we seek from life, to ask these questions, to recognize the importance of passions as well as paychecks — even if there are no easy answers.

A young man named Adam Braun struggles with similar issues in another new book that complements Keegan’s. Braun began working at a hedge fund the summer when he was 16, charging unthinkingly toward finance, and after graduation from Brown University he joined Bain Consulting.

Yet Braun found that although he had “made it,” his heart just wasn’t in his work. He kept thinking of a boy, a beggar who had never been to school, whom he had met on a trip to India. Braun asked the boy what he wanted most in the world.

The boy replied, “a pencil.”

Braun quit his job to found Pencils of Promise, a nonprofit that builds schools around the world. His new book, “The Promise of a Pencil,” recounts “how an ordinary person can create extraordinary change.”

I hope this year’s graduates will remember the message in the books by Keegan and Braun about seeking fulfillment, zest and passion in life. This search for purpose in life is an elemental human quest — yet one we tend to put off. And we never know when time will run out.

For Marina Keegan, that was just five days after graduation. Her boyfriend was driving her to her father’s 55th birthday party on Cape Cod. Though he was neither speeding nor drinking, he fell asleep at the wheel. They both were wearing seatbelts, but her seat was fully reclined so that the seatbelt was less effective.

The car hit a guard rail and rolled over twice. The boyfriend was unhurt; Keegan was killed.

Her mother, Tracy Keegan, combed the wreckage. Marina’s laptop had been smashed, but the hard drive was extracted to mine the writings so important to her — and now preserved in her book.

After the crash, Marina’s parents immediately forgave and comforted her boyfriend, who faced criminal charges in her death. They asked that he not be prosecuted for vehicular homicide — for that, they said, would have broken their daughter’s heart. Charges were dropped, and the boyfriend sat by her parents at the memorial service.

The book has been lovingly edited by Anne Fadiman, who taught Keegan writing at Yale. “Every aspect of her life,” Fadiman says, “was a way of answering that question: how do you find meaning in your life?”

Fadiman says that Marina would be “beyond thrilled” at having a book published, but would add: “Please pay attention to my ideas. Don’t read this book just because I’m dead.”

And last but not least we have Mr. Bruni:

To appreciate how rapidly the ground has shifted, go back just two short years, to April 2012. President Obama didn’t support marriage equality, not formally. Neither did Hillary Clinton. And few people were denouncing them as bigots whose positions rendered them too divisive, offensive and regressive to lead.

But that’s precisely the condemnation that tainted and toppled Brendan Eich after his appointment two weeks ago as the new chief executive of the technology company Mozilla. On Thursday he resigned, clearly under duress and solely because his opposition to gay marriage diverged from the views of too many employees and customers. “Under the present circumstances, I cannot be an effective leader,” he said, and he was right, not just about the climate at Mozilla but also, to a certain degree, about the climate of America.

Something remarkable has happened — something that’s mostly exciting but also a little disturbing (I’ll get to the disturbing part later), and that’s reflected not just in Eich’s ouster at Mozilla, the maker of the web browser Firefox, but in a string of marriage-equality victories in federal courts over recent months, including a statement Friday by a judge who said that he would rule that Ohio must recognize same-sex marriages performed outside the state.

And the development I’m referring to isn’t the broadening support for same-sex marriage, which a clear majority of Americans now favor. No, I’m referring to the fact that in a great many circles, endorsement of same-sex marriage has rather suddenly become nonnegotiable. Expected. Assumed. Proof of a baseline level of enlightenment and humanity. Akin to the understanding that all people, regardless of race or color, warrant the same rights and respect.

Even beyond these circles, the debate is essentially over, in the sense that the trajectory is immutable and the conclusion foregone. Everybody knows it, even the people who still try to stand in the way. The legalization of same-sex marriage from north to south and coast to coast is merely a matter of time, probably not much of it at that.

There will surely be setbacks, holdouts, tantrums like the one in Arizona, whose Legislature in February passed a bill that would have allowed discrimination against gays and lesbians on religious grounds. (Mississippi enacted a vaguely similar measure last week.) Arizona’s governor of course vetoed the legislation, after being pressured by corporate leaders, and their lobbying underscored the larger and more lasting story. At least beyond the offices of Chick-fil-A, it’s widely believed — no, understood — that being pro-gay is better for business than being antigay. Hence the inclusion of a same-sex couple in the famous faces-of-America commercial that Coca-Cola unveiled during the Super Bowl. Hence a more recent television spot, part of the Honey Maid food company’s “This is Wholesome” ad campaign. It showed two dads cuddling their newborn.

The Mozilla story fits into this picture. Eich was exiled following not just employee complaints but signs and threats of customer unrest: The online dating site OkCupid was urging its users to boycott Firefox.

The business community has in fact been a consequential supporter of marriage equality. Wall Street firms lined the coffers of the campaign for marriage equality in New York, and 20 major financial service companies pay substantial membership dues to belong to and underwrite Out on the Street, an industry group that advocates for L.G.B.T. equality.

“You want to talk about a sea change?” Todd Sears, the group’s founder, said to me. “Fourteen financial services companies signed onto an amicus brief in the Edie Windsor case.” That was the one that asked the Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, which the court essentially did last June.

The language in the high court’s ruling “demolished every argument put forward to justify marriage discrimination,” said Evan Wolfson, the founder and president of the advocacy group Freedom to Marry. And that ruling, he added, helped to pave the way for all the court victories — in Utah, in Oklahoma, in Texas — since. This coming Thursday, the United States circuit court in Denver will hear an appeal of the decision by a federal judge in Utah to allow gay and lesbian couples there to wed. The case could have a sweeping effect on a region of the country not typically considered progressive. It could also wind up at the Supreme Court and give the justices a chance to do what they stopped short of last year: decree marriage equality nationwide.

Wolfson noted a fascinating angle of the recent court rulings and of the blessing that Eric Holder gave in February to state-level attorneys general who didn’t want to defend bans on gay marriage. Both invoked racial discrimination in the country’s past, casting bans on same-sex marriage in that context.

Increasingly, opposition to gay marriage is being equated with racism — as indefensible, un-American. “What was once a wedge issue became wrapped in the American flag,” said Jo Becker, a Times writer whose sweeping history of the marriage-equality movement, “Forcing the Spring,” will be published this month. Becker mentioned what she called a rebranding of the movement over the last five years, with two important components. First, gay marriage was framed in terms of family values. Second, advocates didn’t shame opponents and instead made sympathetic public acknowledgment of the journey that many Americans needed to complete in order to be comfortable with marriage equality.

There was no such acknowledgment from Mozilla employees and others who took to Twitter to condemn Eich and call for his head. Writing about that wrath in his blog, The Dish, Andrew Sullivan said that it disgusted him, “as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society.” A leading supporter of gay marriage, Sullivan warned other supporters not to practice “a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else.”

I can’t get quite as worked up as he did. For one thing, prominent gay rights groups weren’t part of the Mozilla fray. For another, Mozilla isn’t the first company to make leadership decisions (or reconsiderations) with an eye toward the boss’s cultural mind-meld with the people below him or her. And if you believe that to deny a class of people the right to marry is to deem them less worthy, it’s indeed difficult to chalk up opposition to marriage equality as just another difference of opinion.

But it’s vital to remember how very recently so many of equality’s promoters, like Obama and Clinton, have come around and how relatively new this conversation remains. It’s crucial not to lose sight of how well the movement has been served by the less judgmental posture that Becker pointed out.

Sullivan is right to raise concerns about the public flogging of someone like Eich. Such vilification won’t accelerate the timetable of victory, which is certain. And it doesn’t reflect well on the victors.

Crap, Mr. Bruni.  He was shit-canned because he was bad for business.  He’s still perfectly free to exercise his rights of free speech to decry same sex marriage.

Brooks, Nocera and Bruni

April 1, 2014

Bobo has seen fit to present us with something called “The Employer’s Creed.”  He gurgles that the hiring process deeply affects the kind of people we have in our society. He says a little healthy bias in decision-making might cultivate deeper, fuller human beings.  You know you’re in for a rough ride when he uses the phrase “moral ecology” in the first sentence.  In “A Step Toward Justice in College Sports?” Mr. Nocera says a players’ union would help. But several lawsuits could bring about even bigger changes.  Mr. Bruni considers “Our Crazy College Crossroads” and says:  Accepted? Rejected? Neither seals your fate.  Here’s Bobo:

Dear Employers,

You may not realize it, but you have a powerful impact on the culture and the moral ecology of our era. If your human resources bosses decide they want to hire a certain sort of person, then young people begin turning themselves into that sort of person.

Therefore, I’m asking you to think about the following principles, this Employer’s Creed. If you follow these principles in your hiring practices, you’ll be sending a signal about what sort of person gets ahead. You may correct some of the perversities at the upper reaches of our meritocracy. You may even help cultivate deeper, fuller human beings.

Bias hiring decisions against perfectionists. If you work in a white-collar sector that attracts highly educated job applicants, you’ve probably been flooded with résumés from people who are not so much human beings as perfect avatars of success. They got 3.8 grade-point averages in high school and college. They served in the cliché leadership positions on campus. They got all the perfect consultant/investment bank internships. During off-hours they distributed bed nets in Zambia and dug wells in Peru.

When you read these résumés, you have two thoughts. First, this applicant is awesome. Second, there’s something completely flavorless here. This person has followed the cookie-cutter formula for what it means to be successful and you actually have no clue what the person is really like except for a high talent for social conformity. Either they have no desire to chart out an original life course or lack the courage to do so. Shy away from such people.

Bias hiring decisions toward dualists. The people you want to hire should have achieved some measure of conventional success, but they should have also engaged in some desperate lark that made no sense from a career or social status perspective. Maybe a person left a successful banking job to rescue the family dry-cleaning business in Akron. Maybe another had great grades at a fancy East Coast prep school but went off to a Christian college because she wanted a place to explore her values. These peoples have done at least one Deeply Unfashionable Thing. Such people have intrinsic motivation, native curiosity and social courage.

Bias toward truth-tellers. I recently ran into a fellow who hires a lot of people. He said he asks the following question during each interview. “Could you describe a time when you told the truth and it hurt you?” If the interviewee can’t immediately come up with an episode, there may be a problem here.

Don’t mindlessly favor people with high G.P.A.s. Students who get straight As have an ability to prudentially master their passions so they can achieve proficiency across a range of subjects. But you probably want employees who are relentlessly dedicated to one subject. In school, those people often got As in subjects they were passionate about but got Bs in subjects that did not arouse their imagination.

Reward the ripening virtues, not the blooming virtues. Some virtues bloom forth with youth: being intelligent, energetic, curious and pleasant. Some virtues only ripen over time: other-centeredness, having a sense for how events will flow, being able to discern what’s right in the absence of external affirmation. These virtues usually come with experience, after a person has taken time off to raise children, been fired or learned to cope with having a cruel boss. The blooming virtues are great if you are hiring thousands of consultants to churn out reports. For most other jobs, you want the ripening ones, too.

Reward those who have come by way of sorrow. Job seekers are told to present one linear narrative to the world, one that can easily be read and digested as a series of clean conquests. But if you are stuck in an airport bar with a colleague after a horrible business trip, would you really want to have a drink with a person like that? No, you’d want a real human being, someone who’d experienced setback, suffering and recovery. You’d want someone with obvious holes in his résumé, who has learned the lessons that only suffering teaches, and who got back on track.

Reward cover letter rebels. Job seeking is the second greatest arena of social pretense in modern life — after dating. But some people choose not to spin and exaggerate. They choose not to make each occasion seem more impressive than it really was. You want people who are radically straight, even with superiors.

You could argue that you don’t actually want rich, full personalities for your company. You just want achievement drones who can perform specific tasks. I doubt that’s in your company’s long-term interests. But if you fear leaping out in this way, at least think of the effect you’re having on the deeper sensibilities of the next generation, the kind of souls you are incentivizing and thus fashioning, the legacy you will leave behind.

It’s really time for him to find something else to do, and give poor Moral Hazard a break.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

If you were going to hold up a school as being exemplary in the way it puts athletics in, as they say, “the proper perspective,” Northwestern University would certainly be one you’d point to. For instance, although it lacks the kind of winning tradition — at least in the big-time sports — that other schools in the Big Ten can boast of, it proudly points to the 97 percent graduation rate of its athletes.

Yet buried in last week’s decision by Peter Sung Ohr, the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board — in which he said that the Northwestern football team had the right to form a union — was this anecdote about Kain Colter, the former Northwestern quarterback who is leading the union effort. In his sophomore year, dreaming of going to medical school someday, Colter “attempted to take a required chemistry course.” However, “his coaches and advisors discouraged him from taking the course because it conflicted with morning football practices.” Eventually, after falling behind other pre-med students, he wound up switching his major to psychology, “which he believed to be less demanding,” according to Ohr.

Ohr’s essential point was that unlike the rest of the student body at Northwestern, football players had little control over their lives. Their schedules were dictated by the needs of the football team. They had bosses in the form of coaches and other university officials who could fire them. They had to abide by a million petty N.C.A.A. rules, and they lacked many of the freedoms and rights taken for granted by students who didn’t play sports. They put in up to 50-hours a week at their sport — vastly more than is supposedly allowed under N.C.A.A. rules. But then, every school finds ways to evade those rules, whether they have athletics “in perspective” or not.

Anyone who cares about justice had to be encouraged by Ohr’s ruling. In outlining the many ways that Northwestern’s football players were primarily employees of the university, recruited to the campus to generate revenue, Ohr ignored the idyllic myth of the “student-athlete” and dealt in cold, hard facts. (“Student-athlete,” it’s worth remembering, is a phrase invented by the N.C.A.A. in the 1950s precisely to avoid having to grant workers’ compensation to injured college football players on the grounds that they fit the classic definition of employees.)

Having said that, it seems to me that both the fans and the critics of Ohr’s decision have been getting a little ahead of themselves. It is only one team at one school, and while I hear reliably that other teams at other schools are investigating the possibility of forming a union, we are years away from knowing whether a union would necessarily mean players are eventually paid (as proponents hope) or that their scholarships will be taxed (as critics warn). Given the N.C.A.A.’s fierce resistance to anything that might dilute its power — or worse, give power to the athletes themselves — it is a certainty that Ohr’s decision will wind up in a federal appeals court.

The buzz over the union effort has also had the effect, at least temporarily, of distracting attention from other efforts that have the potential to upend the system even more radically. One is a class-action lawsuit that has been active for several years now, the O’Bannon case, named for Ed O’Bannon, the former U.C.L.A. basketball star. Although ostensibly about the licensing and image rights of former college athletes, it is aimed directly at the heart of “amateurism” that is the central rationale of the N.C.A.A.’s refusal to consider paying players anything beyond their scholarships.

Already, I’m told, the legal team driving the case is devising the means to pay players royalties and other compensation, which they will undoubtedly propose to the judge, assuming it goes to trial.

Meanwhile, lawyers on both coasts have recently filed straightforward antitrust class-action suits against the N.C.A.A., arguing that universities and the N.C.A.A. simply lack the legal right to cap players’ compensation. When I asked Jeffrey Kessler, a New York lawyer who has spent years representing professional athletes, why he had taken on this case, he replied, “Our sense is that the world has changed so radically in college sports that even the most casual observers recognize that this is not amateurism. This is a gigantic business.”

Maybe that is what the Ohr decision really represents: a government acknowledgment that college sports is not what it once was, and that no amount of N.C.A.A. propaganda can hide the money-soaked reality anymore. If judges come to these upcoming cases with the same lack of blinders that Ohr showed last week — if they view the cases strictly through the prism of the law rather than the gauzy sheen of amateurism — well, then, a union will be the least of the N.C.A.A.’s worries.

And now we get to Mr. Bruni:

Over recent days the notices have gone out, an annual ritual of dashed hopes.

Brown University offered admission to the lowest fraction ever of the applicants it received: fewer than one in 10. The arithmetic was even more brutal at Stanford, Columbia, Yale. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had a record number of students vying for its next freshman class — 31,321 — and accepted about one in six who applied from outside the state. Notre Dame took about one in five of all comers.

And right now many young men and women who didn’t get in where they fervently longed to are worrying that it’s some grim harbinger of their future, some sweeping judgment of their worth.

This is for them. And it’s intended less as a balm for the rejected than as a reality check for a society gone nuts over the whole overheated process.

If you were shut out of an elite school, that doesn’t mean you’re less gifted than all of the students who were welcomed there. It may mean only that you lacked the patronage that some of them had, or that you played the game less single-mindedly, taking fewer SAT courses and failing to massage your biography with the same zeal.

A friend of mine in Africa told me recently about a center for orphans there that a rich American couple financed in part to give their own teenage children an exotic charity to visit occasionally and mine for college-application essays: admissions bait. That’s the degree of cunning that comes into this frenzy.

Maybe the school that turned you down ranks high in the excessively publicized “College Salary Report” by PayScale.com, which looks at whose graduates go on to make the most money.

What a ludicrous list. It’s at least as imperfectly assembled as the honor roll that U.S. News & World Report puts together every year. And even if you trust it, what does it tell you? That the colleges at the top have the most clout and impart the best skills? Or that these colleges admit the most young people whose parents and previously established networks guarantee them a leg up?

Maybe it tells you merely that these colleges attract the budding plutocrats with the greatest concern for the heft of their paychecks. Is that the milieu you sought?

About money and professional advancement: Shiny diplomas from shiny schools help. It’s a lie to say otherwise. But it’s as foolish to accord their luster more consequence than the effort you put into your studies, the earnestness with which you hone your skills, what you actually learn. These are the sturdier building blocks of a career.

In “David and Goliath,” Malcolm Gladwell makes the case that a less exclusive university may enable a student to stand out and flourish in a way that a more exclusive one doesn’t. The selectiveness of Gladwell’s science doesn’t nullify the plausibility of his argument.

Corner offices in this country teem with C.E.O.s who didn’t do their undergraduate work in the Ivy League. Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin went to the University of Alabama. John Mackey of Whole Foods studied at the University of Texas, never finishing.

Your diploma is, or should be, the least of what defines you. Show me someone whose identity is rooted in where he or she went to college. I’ll show you someone you really, really don’t want at your Super Bowl party.

And your diploma will have infinitely less relevance to your fulfillment than so much else: the wisdom with which you choose your romantic partners; your interactions with the community you inhabit; your generosity toward the family that you inherited or the family that you’ve made.

If you’re not bound for the school of your dreams, you’re probably bound for a school that doesn’t conform as tidily to your fantasies or promise to be as instantly snug a fit.

Good. College should be a crucible. It’s about departure, not continuity: about turning a page and becoming a new person, not letting the ink dry on who, at 17 or 18, you already are. The disruption of your best-laid plans serves that. It’s less a setback than a springboard.

A high school senior I know didn’t get into several of the colleges she coveted most. She got into a few that are plenty excellent. And I’ve never been more impressed with her, because she quickly realized that her regrets pale beside her blessings and she pivoted from letdown to excitement.

That resiliency and talent for optimism will matter more down the line than the name of the school lucky enough to have her. Like those of her peers who are gracefully getting past this ordeal that our status-mad society has foisted on them, she’ll do just fine.

Brooks, Cohen, Nocera and Bruni

February 18, 2014

Bobo has produced a towering pile of crap in which he tries to convince us he’s really a nice guy at heart.  In “The Prodigal Sons” he gurgles that the prodigal son parable provides an apt lesson as we strive to craft modern social policies.  Of course everything that Bobo shills for is in stark opposition to the parable, but we’re not supposed to notice that.  In the comments “Michael O’Neill” from Bandon, Oregon had this to say:  “Beyond the total knee slapper of David Brooks as a member of the middle class is the idea that Mitt’s 47% are layabouts who are partying on food stamps, Medicaid and minimum wage jobs.”  In “Britannia Rues the Waves” Mr. Cohen says Scotland looks south and wonders. Britain could break up.  Mr. Nocera, in “Joyce Does It Her Way,” says an artist’s commitment to feminism and her music provides lessons for us all.  Mr. Bruni considers “Hillary’s Secrets” and says there are ugly implications to leaving her and other public figures without any safe space.  Here, unfortunately, is Bobo:

We take as our text today the parable of the prodigal sons. As I hope you know, the story is about a father with two sons. The younger son took his share of the inheritance early and blew it on prostitutes and riotous living. When the money was gone, he returned home.

His father ran out and embraced him. The delighted father offered the boy his finest robe and threw a feast in his honor. The older son, the responsible one, was appalled. He stood outside the feast, crying in effect, “Look! All these years I’ve been working hard and obeying you faithfully, and you never gave me special treatment such as this!”

The father responded, “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” But he had to celebrate the younger one’s return. The boy was lost and now is found.

Did the father do the right thing? Is the father the right model for authority today?

The father’s critics say he was unjust. People who play by the rules should see the rewards. Those who abandon the community, live according to their own reckless desires should not get to come back and automatically reap the bounty of others’ hard work. If you reward the younger brother, you signal that self-indulgence pays, while hard work gets slighted.

The father’s example is especially pernicious now, the critics continue. Jesus preached it at the time of the Pharisees, in an overly rigid and rule-bound society. In those circumstances, a story of radical forgiveness was a useful antidote to the prevailing legalism.

But we don’t live in that kind of society. We live in a society in which moral standards are already fuzzy, in which people are already encouraged to do their own thing. We live in a society with advanced social decay — with teens dropping out of high school, financiers plundering companies and kids being raised without fathers. The father’s example in the parable reinforces loose self-indulgence at a time when we need more rule-following, more social discipline and more accountability, not less.

It’s a valid critique, but I’d defend the father’s example, and, informed by a reading of Timothy Keller’s outstanding book “The Prodigal God,” I’d even apply the father’s wisdom to social policy-making today.

We live in a divided society in which many of us in the middle- and upper-middle classes are like the older brother and many of the people who drop out of school, commit crimes and abandon their children are like the younger brother. In many cases, we have a governing class of elder brothers legislating programs on behalf of the younger brothers. The great danger in this situation is that we in the elder brother class will end up self-righteously lecturing the poor: “You need to be more like us: graduate from school, practice a little sexual discipline, work harder.”

But the father in this parable exposes the truth that people in the elder brother class are stained, too. The elder brother is self-righteous, smug, cold and shrewd. The elder brother wasn’t really working to honor his father; he was working for material reward and out of a fear-based moralism. The father reminds us of the old truth that the line between good and evil doesn’t run between people or classes; it runs straight through every human heart.

The father also understands that the younger brothers of the world will not be reformed and re-bound if they feel they are being lectured to by unpleasant people who consider themselves models of rectitude. Imagine if the older brother had gone out to greet the prodigal son instead of the father, giving him some patronizing lecture. Do we think the younger son would have reformed his life to become a productive member of the community? No. He would have gotten back up and found some bad-boy counterculture he could join to reassert his dignity.

The father teaches that rebinding and reordering society requires an aggressive assertion: You are accepted; you are accepted. It requires mutual confession and then a mutual turning toward some common project. Why does the father organize a feast? Because a feast is nominally about food, but, in Jewish life, it is really about membership. It reasserts your embedded role in the community project.

The father’s lesson for us is that if you live in a society that is coming apart on class lines, the best remedies are oblique. They are projects that bring the elder and younger brothers together for some third goal: national service projects, infrastructure-building, strengthening a company or a congregation.

The father offers each boy a precious gift. The younger son gets to dedicate himself to work and self-discipline. The older son gets to surpass the cold calculus of utility and ambition, and experience the warming embrace of solidarity and companionship.

Sanctimonious little turd, isn’t he?  Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Pity poor Scotland. Within days it has been warned that if it has the temerity to vote for independence in September it can forget about a currency union with the pound and forget about becoming a member of the European Union, two ideas Scottish nationalist leaders have presented as entirely feasible.

The first warning came from George Osborne, the British chancellor of the Exchequer, who declared that, “If Scotland walks away from the U.K. it walks away from the U.K. pound.” He added that “there’s no legal reason why the rest of the U.K. would need to share its currency with Scotland.”

The second was delivered by José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, who told the BBC it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible,” for Scotland to join the European Union because it would require the unanimous approval of other member states. That was a remote possibility given the dim view taken by some countries, notably Catalonia-fearing Spain, on secession. Spain, Barroso noted, had not recognized Kosovo, which broke away from Serbia.

“Bluff, bluster and bullying” was the verdict of Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party and the campaign for independence, to Osborne’s apparent threat. John Swinney, Scotland’s finance minister, called Barroso’s remarks “pretty preposterous.” Scots, both men suggested, would not be cowed.

The battle for Scotland is heating up 307 years after the union of 1707. A pretty successful union it has been, too, but, unthreatened and restless, Scots troop off to Norway, another small country with oil, and think, hey, why not? Some are more inclined to recall the victory over the English at the Battle of Bannockburn 700 years ago than Englishmen and Scots together in the trenches of World War I a century ago.

Recent polls suggest a close outcome, with the plurality that favors staying inside the union eroding fast. The refusal of David Cameron, the British prime minister, to debate Salmond has not helped the union’s cause.

The Tories are cordially disliked in Scotland. Cameron, an old Etonian, has been singled out as a “toff” out of touch with ordinary people. Scots distrust him. They are overwhelmingly favorable to the European Union, about which the prime minister has shown a fatal ambiguity, possibly opening the door to Britain’s departure.

Two points need underlining. The first is that the threats from Osborne and Barroso are ill-advised and could well rebound against them. The Scots are proud people. It is wiser to debate them than admonish them, or raise the specter of isolation from afar.

The second is that Britain in Europe, its union intact, offers the best chance for the nation to count and prosper in the 21st century. A Scottish departure, followed by rump Britain limping out of the European Union, would be a disaster. It is a safe bet that the Northern Irish question, quieted but unresolved, would then resurface with a vengeance.

Imagine the Chinese gazing at the North Sea after this fragmentation and trying to make out what the little speck of land bobbing around out there signifies.

That said, Scots must look south these days and wonder. Growing areas of England are under water, a fact Cameron has been among the last to grasp. Politicians appear to spend much of their time squabbling over how to dredge a river. Officials issue frantic edicts on “health and safety.” A barmy prince declares that “there is nothing like a jolly good disaster to get people to start doing something.” The world’s financial center is turning into the world’s aquatic center, its main attraction a ship of fools.

At the helm sits Cameron drifting across the Somerset Levels. Thames floodwaters are closing in on London; his Environment Agency is a laughing stock run by a man a member of his own Conservative party has called a “little git.”

There are shades of the Hurricane Katrina debacle. Chris Smith, the chairman of the Environment Agency, has become Britain’s Michael Brown, the American disaster-response director of whom President George W. Bush famously observed, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

Smith is doing a heck of a job.

Scots seem to be drawing the conclusion that they would be better off by themselves. (They might, however, want to take a closer look at the balance sheets of Scottish banks before breaking away.)

“We want you to stay,” Cameron pleaded in a recent speech. The Gettysburg Address it was not. He sounded sincere even if the thought must cross his mind that the chances of Labor ever winning an election again would be minimal, absent Scotland. He might then rule in perpetuity.

That is a very sobering thought. The satirist Peter Cook once suggested Britain was about to sink “giggling into the sea.” Never has that vision seemed closer. Giggle away. The bits of Britain could go one by one.

And now we get to Mr. Nocera:

I’d like to tell you a story about a Brazilian musician you’ve probably never heard of. Her name is Joyce Moreno; she is 66 and has been singing and composing professionally for 47 years, during which time she has made more than 30 recordings. I flipped for her music when I first heard her last spring at Birdland, in Midtown Manhattan, and I’ve been listening to her, more or less obsessively, ever since.

But that’s not the reason I want to tell you about her. A few months after I first heard her play, we struck up an email correspondence. When Joyce came to New York in September for an engagement, my wife and I had dinner with her and her husband, the Brazilian drummer Tutty Moreno. And during my recent trip to Rio de Janeiro, I interviewed her, figuring that I would write about her when I got back. Somewhat to my surprise, what has stuck with me from those encounters has less to do with her music, glorious though I think it is, and more to do with the way she has conducted her career. She has lessons to teach that go well beyond music.

Joyce’s career began in controversy. When she was 19, she wrote a song that began, “I was told that my man doesn’t love me.”

In the Brazil of that era, her blunt, first-person, female-centric lyric was considered by many to be vulgar — not the sort of thing a woman was supposed to sing about.

“It was strange,” she told me — bewildering to be at the center of such a storm at such a young age. But she never backed down from the way she approached her songwriting. In a country that didn’t exactly embrace feminism, she was always a staunch feminist, and that’s reflected in some of her best lyrics.

As is true for every Brazilian of her generation, she also had to deal with the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985. In December 1968, the dictatorship issued a decree that, among other things, instituted broad censorship of the arts. Some of the country’s most important musicians, like Gilberto Gil, were imprisoned and then sent into exile.

Other musicians and artists had to submit their work to the censors. Joyce recalls that she was forbidden to use words like “pregnant” in her songs.

“I was censored because I had a feminine point of view,” she says. By 1980, however, the worst of the censorship had ended, and Joyce recorded a song called “Feminina,” which became, in many ways, her anthem.

“Oh, Ma,” it begins. “Please explain to me, teach me

Tell me, what is feminine?

It’s not in the hair, the mojo or the look

It’s being a female everywhere.”

In the early 1980s, she had a handful of small hits, “Feminina” included. But, says Nelson Motta, a Brazilian writer and producer, “her music has never been very commercial from a Brazilian standpoint,” and, over time, she became someone who was more respected than listened to.

Several times during her career, she seemed on the cusp of breaking out. Once, early in her career, she recorded an album produced by Claus Ogerman, who had arranged songs for Antônio Carlos Jobim and Frank Sinatra. For reasons that have never been clear to her, the album was never released. “It was painful,” she told me, “but I lived with it.”

Years later, Verve signed her to a two-record contract. As is so often the case, however, the label and the musician had very different ideas about what the recordings should sound like. “They said they liked what I was doing,” she told me, “but then they wanted me to do something completely different.” Joyce found the experience miserable, and it reinforced her belief that she could be happy only by staying true to herself, no matter what effect that had on her career.

And so it has been. She is more popular in Japan than she is in Brazil. She cuts her own records, even though it means she often has to pay for it out of her pocket. “It is a way of preserving my independence as an artist,” she said.

“Joyce has never worried about being popular,” says Motta. When I saw her give a concert in Rio de Janeiro in December, there were maybe 250 people in the hall — and the admission was free. I felt disappointed for her, but it didn’t bother her at all. Afterward, she autographed copies of her new CD and posed for pictures. When I asked her about it, she said, “I’m fine with where my career is. I’ve had a very lucky life.”

Would that we could all so easily make our peace with what life throws us — the good, the bad and everything in between.

Last but not least we have Mr. Bruni:

Her perseverance often awes me. Her arrogance sometimes galls me. And her particular braid of high-mindedness and high-handedness almost always leaves me puzzled and exhausted.

But what I’ve been feeling for and about Hillary Clinton over the last week is sadness. Does she have even a smidgen of privacy left? Can she utter a syllable or think a thought with any assurance that it won’t be exposed, analyzed, ridiculed?

When she was talking decades ago with Diane Blair, whose journals are part of “The Hillary Papers,” she no doubt assumed an audience of one: her dear friend. Her best friend. But this corner of Hillary’s life, like every other, has now been put on public display. Get as close as you like. Gawk. Judge.

I’m not suggesting that The Washington Free Beacon, the news site that presented “The Hillary Papers,” did anything unusual or wrong. By recognizing that an archive of documents at the University of Arkansas hadn’t received much scrutiny and going through it, The Free Beacon provided candid, intimate glimpses of the Clintons that hadn’t existed before. This was indeed a scoop, one that many other media organizations would have been happy to trumpet.

But to absorb it in the context of the endless drip-drip-drip about Hillary over the years was to worry that we’ve lost sight of any boundaries and limits — that maybe even Hillary herself has stopped hoping for anything kinder. When the archive was opened to the public in 2010, she gave a tribute to Blair, who died in 2000.

Details in the documents were fresh. Most of the truths they fleshed out weren’t. We already knew that Hillary had found tortured rationales for Bill’s infidelities. We already knew that her compromised brand of feminism accommodated the vilification of women who dared to threaten the couple’s purchase on power.

What’s at least as interesting is what the documents say about the political arena that the Clintons inhabit: the toll it takes, the cynics it makes. Early in her White House years, Hillary’s guard has already gone up. Blair chats with Janet Reno, Bill Clinton’s attorney general, and writes, in April 1993, that while “Janet wants to connect” with Hillary, she “finds HC a ‘mask.’ ”

This is even before the fever pitch of impeachment and the Starr Report in all its lurid detail and the sustained analysis of every provisional hairstyle and the millions of pages by authors determined to turn her into a symbol of this, that or the other. She has been called a Rorschach, but as I read “The Hillary Papers,” I couldn’t stop thinking of her as a carcass. With a tireless zest, we pick her clean.

The latest book about her, “HRC,” by the journalists Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, was published last week. It focuses on recent years, and is flattering: The Hillary here is resourceful and diligent and has enough guile and grace to win over the people whom she sets out to.

She’s also obsessed with loyalty, which governs her decisions, leading to bad ones. That’s perhaps inevitable when you’ve been so thoroughly peered and poked at. You do your damnedest to carve out a safe space.

Blair was surely supposed to be that, and it’s not clear why she was taking notes or what she intended to do with them. It’s also not clear that the Hillary in those notes is the truest one. With our friends, yes, we bare our souls. But we also let off steam, allowing ourselves a theatricality and sloppiness that exaggerate our emotions.

Blair’s journals are the kind of material from which biographies and histories have long been woven. But it doesn’t always surface so soon, and it is now augmented by the eavesdropping and tattling of cabinet secretaries (see “Duty,” by Robert Gates) and political allies and handlers eager to make themselves look better, even at a benefactor’s expense (see “Game Change” and the robust genre to which it belongs).

Frenzied media feed on this, to a degree that arguably goes beyond our obligation to keep politicians honest, and it’s troubling in two regards. How many decent, gifted people who contemplate public office look at what someone like Hillary endures and step away? And the people who aren’t scared off: How cold and hard are they, or how cold and hard do they become?

“HRC” recalls that just after the 2008 presidential election, a photo came to light of one of Barack Obama’s speechwriters, Jon Favreau, pretending to cup the breast of a cardboard cutout of Hillary. The image is shocking, but then again not. For a good long while, we’ve done with Hillary as we pleased, frequently looking past her humanity, routinely running roughshod over her secrets. She has gained so much — tremendous influence, significant riches — but lost so much, too. Was that the bargain she expected? Has she made peace with it?

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman, Kristof and Bruni

February 16, 2014

The Pasty Little Putz has given us a fine whine today.  In “Parental Pity Party” he sniffles that first comes the baby, and then all the whining starts about how impossible it all is.  “Dana Lawrence” from Davenport, LA had this to say:  “Don’t worry, Mr. Douthat. You were a whiner long before the baby arrived.”  MoDo is in Paris.  In “Marry First, Then Cheat” she says in France, it’s O.K. to cheat if you’re married, but not if you’re single.  The Moustache of Wisdom is back on his regular “let’s all of you be entrepreneurs” kick.  In “Start-Up America: Our Best Hope” he says the contrast between the vibe in Silicon Valley and the obstruction in Washington is quite telling.  Mr. Kristof says “Professors, We Need You!”  He says academics are some of the smartest minds in the world, and then asks a question:   So why are they making themselves irrelevant?  Mr. Bruni says “Let Our Lawmakers Hide!”  He wants us to behold the costume party that is Congress, where members wear faces at odds with their souls.  Here, unfortunately, is the Putz:

When I became a father, I expected to change in all the predictable ways — to become more responsible and more exhausted, to lose contact with friends and lean more heavily on relatives, to grow steadily balder of head and softer of belly.

What I didn’t expect is that parenthood would make me such a whiner.

I’m not sure I’ve contributed personally to the Internet’s ever-expanding Book of Parental Lamentations — what Ruth Graham, writing for Slate, calls the “endless stream of blog posts and status updates depicting the messy, tedious, nightmarishly life-destroying aspects of parenting.” But in private conversation, I’m often the sort of parent Graham complains is scaring her away from motherhood — all too eager to Tell It Like It Really Is, and enumerate all the horrible aspects of the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me.

Coming from the financially secure and happily married, this whining can feel unseemly, self-indulgent and unfair to one’s kids. In my own case, it’s also philosophically problematic, since a Catholic columnist should presumably be trying to talk his acquaintances into having as many kids as possible.

But a not-so-quiet desperation can seem pervasive among parents, and it’s worth trying to understand why.

Fortunately, Jennifer Senior’s new book, “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood,” is an excellent primer on possible explanations for the great parental pity party. It ranges across the problems with family policy in the United States (basically, we don’t have one), the changing role of children (who went, she notes, “from being our employees to our bosses”), the unsettling of gender roles, the “having it all” stresses inherent in the maternal quest for work-life balance, and the way economic uncertainty and technological change make it hard for parents to figure out what kind of world they’re supposed to be preparing their children for.

But Senior’s most insightful emphasis, I think, is on the gap that’s opened — thanks to our society’s extraordinary wealth and libertarian social ethic — between the lifestyles and choices available to nonparents and the irreducible burdens still involved in raising children.

As she puts it, parenthood is “the last binding obligation in a culture that asks for almost no other permanent commitments at all.” In this sense, it isn’t necessarily that family life has changed that dramatically in the last few generations. Rather, it’s stayed the same in crucial ways — because babies still need what babies need — while outside the domestic sphere there’s been an expansion of opportunities, a proliferation of choices and entertainments and immediately available gratifications, that make child rearing seem much more burdensome by comparison.

This has two consequences for young, reasonably affluent Americans. First, it creates an understandable reluctance to give up the pleasures of extended brunches and long happy hours, late nights and weekend getaways, endless hours playing Grand Theft Auto or binge-watching “New Girl.” Second, it inspires a ferocious shock when a child arrives and that oh-so-modern lifestyle gives way to challenges that seem almost medieval, and duties that seem impossibly absolute. And the longer the arrival is delayed, the greater that shock — because “postponing children,” Senior points out, can make parents “far more aware of the freedoms they’re giving up.”

“Welcome,” a colleague emailed me after our first daughter was born, “to unavoidable reality.” Which is exactly right: In parts of American society, death and children’s diapers are the only unavoidable realities left.

Unless, of course, you avoid the diapers by avoiding the children altogether, as the developed world’s inhabitants are increasingly inclined to do.

In an earlier column, I described this retreat from childbearing as (in part) a symptom of cultural decadence, in which modern comforts crowd out intergenerational obligations. This idea was not well received by many readers, but I think it’s actually the unacknowledged worldview behind a lot of the parental griping you find online and elsewhere: The “look how impossible my life has become since I had kids” genre is a way of passing judgment, not all that subtly, on people who have opted out of the parental mission altogether.

And though I agree with the implicit message — that parenting is tough, necessary and praiseworthy — a brag disguised as a whine about your own un-decadent hardships is probably not the best way to hold decadence at bay. Better for parents to be cheerful warriors, to emphasize the joy rather than the misery, while also extending tolerance and understanding — rather than judgment infused with envy — to friends and neighbors who choose a different path.

Which is what I pledge to do from here on out. Enjoy your lingering brunches, my childless friends, and I’ll enjoy my rushed meals and puree-stained fingers. Dirty diapers for me, dirty martinis for thee! Let peace and tolerance prevail!

And no, of course my angels had nothing whatsoever to do with that stain on your favorite sweater.

It must be béarnaise sauce.

The idea that he’s spawned is horrifying…  Next up we have MoDo, frolicking in Paris:

Only the French could have an etiquette scandal.

Let Americans get in a lather over peccadillos of state. The French are lamenting the state of propriety. No one in the land of Napoleon is following the code. And it is putting the citoyens of this once luminous empire in a dark mood. They are less concerned about their president’s slamming-door farcical adventures in amour than they are about the blow to their amour-propre. They fret that their image is more Feydeau than Rousseau.

On this Saint-Valentin weekend, as people join un kiss flash mob at the Louvre, we face another Gallic paradox, like the one about red wine and foie gras keeping you thin.

“The whole problem with this Hollande scandal is that he is not married,” says Jean-Marie Rouart, the French novelist. “Had he been married, this affair would never have been revealed.”

He observed that, as an “elected monarch,” the president has to maintain appearances. “In France, having a mistress is not considered cheating,” he says. “We are not a puritanical country. France is Catholic. We accept sin and forgiveness.”

It’s bad enough to hide under a helmet and dismiss your security and go incognito on an Italian scooter to have a tryst in an apartment that is a stone’s throw from the Élysée Palace and has some tenuous connection to the Corsican Mafia. But everyone here except François Hollande seems to agree: You do not install one mistress at the Élysée when you have another mistress. That is simply bad form.

Why should the tabloids stick to the rule of the French press to ignore the private lives of presidents if Hollande breaks the rule of French presidents to lead an “exemplary” public life, which means having a real wife to cheat on?

Many now suspect the 59-year-old Hollande, a.k.a. The Living Marshmallow, allowed Mistress No. 1, beautiful 48-year-old Paris Match writer Valérie Trierweiler, to play the role of first concubine to distract her from his affair with Mistress No. 2, gorgeous 41-year-old actress Julie Gayet. Gayet is a committed Socialist who worked on Hollande’s campaign, making kittenish support videos and sporting an “I only date Super Heroes” T-shirt.

To assuage Trierweiler for being dubbed “a concubine” in the press, the Rottweiler — as she’s known for her aggressive moves in person and on Twitter — got Élysée offices, a staff of four and a monthly budget of $27,000.

But that created some mal de mer among the French, even before the White House had to destroy all its invitations with Valerie’s name when she squared off with her rival, went to the hospital with a case of “the blues,” and was dumped by Hollande in a terse press “communiqué” two weeks before his visit to Washington.

“The concept of the first lady doesn’t exist in France, and even less the first mistress,” sniffed Olivier de Rohan, a vicomte and head of a foundation that protects French art. “The protocol in France is very strict. It is not a question of choice or pleasure. The wife of the president of the republic was always seated as the wife, never paraded as the first lady. I don’t care with whom Hollande sleeps. But the whole thing is totally ridiculous, the head of a great state exhibiting mistresses, one after the other.”

Or as one French journalist murmured, “All this, in the place where de Gaulle was.”

Over good wine and small portions across Paris, there was appalled discussion that Stephen Colbert, who had filleted Hollande’s shenanigans on his show, was seated to the right of Michelle Obama at the state dinner, in the magic circle with the president where Trierweiler would have been, had she not been trundled off to the love guillotine.

“In France, it would be extremely rude to do that,” Rohan said about Colbert. “The Americans have no protocol.”

Before the dinner, Colbert joked that if the first lady were just the last person you slept with, America’s would have been Monica Lewinsky in 1998. He later crowed about the significance of his placement, yelling “I’m the first lady of France! Merci!” as he was showered with roses. His project, he said, would be “bringing Jean Valjean to justice.”

The nation that once worshipped Jerry Lewis was flummoxed by this “terrible faux pas,” as it was dubbed. (Even though Colbert shares a name with a top adviser to Louis XIV, many harbor dark suspicions that he’s Irish.) They wondered how a late-night comic outranked Christine Lagarde, a possible contender to succeed Hollande? Why were more French luminaries not invited? Why did Mary J. Blige sing for Hollande “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” a famous Jacques Brel chanson begging a lover not to leave?

Did Michelle, Le Point snarked, think she was providing Colbert with “fresh material” for another searing sketch?

The French have spent centuries making fun of us for our puritanism, and now they feel the unbearable sting of our mockery, as our press and comedians chortle at a mediocre pol caught up in a melodrama with all the erotic charge of week-old Camembert. (Maybe that’s why the French got so swept up in the ridiculous but glamorous rumor about Obama and Beyoncé.)

All those French expressions we siphon because English isn’t nuanced enough — finesse, etiquette, savoir-faire, rendezvous, je ne sais quoi, comme il faut — Hollande flouted.

In the minds of many here, the French president is a loser because he’s so unrefined he might as well be American.

She’s such a bitch…  Next up we’re faced with The Moustache of Wisdom. who’s in Palo Alto:

The most striking thing about visiting Silicon Valley these days is how many creative ideas you can hear in just 48 hours.

Jeff Weiner, the chief executive of LinkedIn, explains how his company aims to build an economic graph that will link together the whole global work force with every job being offered in the world, full-time and temporary, for-profit and volunteer, the skills needed for each job, and a presence for every higher education institution everywhere offering a way to acquire those skills.

Aaron Levie, the chief executive of Box, explains how his online storage and collaboration technology is enabling anyone on any mobile device to securely upload files, collaborate, and share content from anywhere to anywhere. Laszlo Bock, who oversees all hiring at Google, lays out the innovative ways his company has learned to identify talented people who have never gone to college. Brian Chesky, the co-founder of Airbnb, explains how his start-up has, in the blink of an eye, become one of the biggest providers of overnight rooms in the world — challenging Hilton and Marriott — without owning a single room. Curt Carlson, the chief executive of SRI International, which invented Siri for your iPhone, recalls how one leading innovator just told him that something would never happen and “then I pick up the paper and it just did.”

What they all have in common is they wake up every day and ask: “What are the biggest trends in the world, and how do I best invent/reinvent my business to thrive from them?” They’re fixated on creating abundance, not redividing scarcity, and they respect no limits on imagination. No idea here is “off the table.”

Then, after you’ve been totally energized by people inventing the future, you go back to your hotel room and catch up with the present: the news from Washington. Two headlines stand out like flashing red lights: House Speaker John Boehner says immigration reform in 2014 is off the table and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the “fast track” legislation we need to pass vital free-trade agreements with the European Union and some of our biggest trading partners in the Asia-Pacific region is off the table. Forget about both until after the 2014 midterm elections, if not 2016.

Summing this all up, The Associated Press reported on Feb. 9 something that you could not make up: “WASHINGTON (AP) — Little more than a week after Groundhog Day, the evidence is mounting that lawmakers have all but wrapped up their most consequential work of 2014, at least until the results of the fall elections are known.”

What a contrast. Silicon Valley: where ideas come to launch. Washington, D.C., where ideas go to die. Silicon Valley: where there are no limits on your imagination and failure in the service of experimentation is a virtue. Washington: where the “imagination” to try something new is now a treatable mental illness covered by Obamacare and failure in the service of experimentation is a crime. Silicon Valley: smart as we can be. Washington: dumb as we wanna be.

True, some libertarians in Silicon Valley cheer Washington’s paralysis. But it is not so simple. There is a certain “league minimum” that we need and are entitled to expect from Washington, especially today. America just discovered huge deposits of energy and gold at the same time. That is, thanks to advances in drilling technology we have unlocked vast new sources of natural gas, which — if extracted with environmentally sound practices — will give us decades of cheap, cleaner energy and enable America to restore itself as a center of manufacturing.

At the same time, the dominance of American companies in cloud computing, and the “Internet of Things” — billions of devices with sensors — have given us a huge lead in the era of Big Data, where the winners will be those who are best at amassing, analyzing and protecting that data and use software to quickly apply what they learn from the data to improve any product or service. These data mountains and the tools to exploit them are the new gold. And we’ve got it.

In such an era, one of the two most valuable things Washington can do to create more good jobs and wealth is to open more export markets. The other is to have an immigration policy that not only provides a legal pathway to citizenship for those here illegally but enables America to attract the best brainpower and apply that talent to the data mountains and software opportunities we’re creating.

But Washington these days won’t even do the league minimum. As The Economist observed in an essay entitled “When Harry Mugged Barry,” both the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal with big Asian markets like Japan, which is almost done, and the U.S.-European Union trade deal, which is being negotiated, are “next generation” agreements that even the playing field for us by requiring higher environmental and labor standards from our trading partners and more access for our software and services.

“Studies suggest that proposed deals with Asia and Europe could generate global gains of $600 billion a year, with $200 billion of that going to America,” The Economist added. “And that understates the benefits, since the deals would spur competition in the market for services, which make up most of rich countries’ output but are seldom traded across borders. Opening industries like finance and transport to greater competition could bring great savings to consumers.”

The U.S. trade representative, Michael Froman, told me that if we’re able to conclude these two trade deals, America would have free trade with “two-thirds of the world.” If you combine that with our lead in cloud computing, social media, software and natural gas for low-cost manufacturing — plus our rule of law and entrepreneurial cultural — you understand, says Froman, why one European C.E.O. told him that America will be the “production platform of choice” for manufacturers all over the world to set up their operations and export to the world.

But it will all have to wait at least until after 2014 when we might have a week to legislate before we get ready for 2016. God forbid either party should challenge their respective bases who oppose freer trade or immigration. That would actually require leadership.

We cannot and should not abolish politics, but sometimes we can’t afford politics as usual. And this time, with rising inequality, is one of them. We need to be doing everything we know how to do to create good jobs and growth. “When your mind-set isn’t about creating abundance,” says Carlson of SRI, “you go into extractive mode, which is a death spiral.”

Start-up America is our best hope. Sure, we’re doing better than most everyone else, but just being the “cleanest dirty shirt” has never been the American dream.

Here’s what “MetroJournalist” in the NY area had to say about that:  “Here we go again. Start a new company. Have Thomas Friedman shill for it. Wash. Rinse. Spin. Repeat.”  Now we get to Mr. Kristof:

Some of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates.

The most stinging dismissal of a point is to say: “That’s academic.” In other words, to be a scholar is, often, to be irrelevant.

One reason is the anti-intellectualism in American life, the kind that led Rick Santorum to scold President Obama as “a snob” for wanting more kids to go to college, or that led congressional Republicans to denounce spending on social science research. Yet it’s not just that America has marginalized some of its sharpest minds. They have also marginalized themselves.

“All the disciplines have become more and more specialized and more and more quantitative, making them less and less accessible to the general public,” notes Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton and now the president of the New America Foundation.

There are plenty of exceptions, of course, including in economics, history and some sciences, in professional schools like law and business, and, above all, in schools of public policy; for that matter, we have a law professor in the White House. But, over all, there are, I think, fewer public intellectuals on American university campuses today than a generation ago.

A basic challenge is that Ph.D. programs have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience. This culture of exclusivity is then transmitted to the next generation through the publish-or-perish tenure process. Rebels are too often crushed or driven away.

“Many academics frown on public pontificating as a frivolous distraction from real research,” said Will McCants, a Middle East specialist at the Brookings Institution. “This attitude affects tenure decisions. If the sine qua non for academic success is peer-reviewed publications, then academics who ‘waste their time’ writing for the masses will be penalized.”

The latest attempt by academia to wall itself off from the world came when the executive council of the prestigious International Studies Association proposed that its publication editors be barred from having personal blogs. The association might as well scream: We want our scholars to be less influential!

A related problem is that academics seeking tenure must encode their insights into turgid prose. As a double protection against public consumption, this gobbledygook is then sometimes hidden in obscure journals — or published by university presses whose reputations for soporifics keep readers at a distance.

Jill Lepore, a Harvard historian who writes for The New Yorker and is an exception to everything said here, noted the result: “a great, heaping mountain of exquisite knowledge surrounded by a vast moat of dreadful prose.”

As experiments, scholars have periodically submitted meaningless gibberish to scholarly journals — only to have the nonsense respectfully published.

My onetime love, political science, is a particular offender and seems to be trying, in terms of practical impact, to commit suicide.

“Political science Ph.D.’s often aren’t prepared to do real-world analysis,” says Ian Bremmer, a Stanford political science Ph.D. who runs the Eurasia Group, a consulting firm. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, one-fifth of articles in The American Political Science Review focused on policy prescriptions; at last count, the share was down to 0.3 percent.

Universities have retreated from area studies, so we have specialists in international theory who know little that is practical about the world. After the Arab Spring, a study by the Stimson Center looked back at whether various sectors had foreseen the possibility of upheavals. It found that scholars were among the most oblivious — partly because they relied upon quantitative models or theoretical constructs that had been useless in predicting unrest.

Many academic disciplines also reduce their influence by neglecting political diversity. Sociology, for example, should be central to so many national issues, but it is so dominated by the left that it is instinctively dismissed by the right.

In contrast, economics is a rare academic field with a significant Republican presence, and that helps tether economic debates to real-world debates. That may be one reason, along with empiricism and rigor, why economists (including my colleague in columny, Paul Krugman) shape debates on issues from health care to education.

Professors today have a growing number of tools available to educate the public, from online courses to blogs to social media. Yet academics have been slow to cast pearls through Twitter and Facebook. Likewise, it was TED Talks by nonscholars that made lectures fun to watch (but I owe a shout-out to the Teaching Company’s lectures, which have enlivened our family’s car rides).

I write this in sorrow, for I considered an academic career and deeply admire the wisdom found on university campuses. So, professors, don’t cloister yourselves like medieval monks — we need you!

Well, at least we have Prof. Krugman, the voice crying in the wilderness.  And now we get to Mr. Bruni:

An idea for the Senate: brown paper bags. You know, the kind in which you cut little holes for your eyes and your nose and a bigger, wider hole for your mouth. Senators could wear these in the chamber, so that the C-Span cameras and the outside world wouldn’t know precisely who’s supporting what. Or maybe ski masks, though those wreak havoc on hairdos. Alternately, the lawmakers could communicate in code: anything to obscure their actions and make it easier for them to actually cast votes in line with their best judgment and consciences. Oh, you thought they always did that? Well then I won’t spill the beans on Santa or the Easter bunny, either.

Last week was a doozy, and not in the usual way. The nation didn’t lurch toward another cliff; the suffixes -geddon and -pocalypse didn’t come out to play; the air didn’t grow thick with dire “s” words like stalemate, standoff and the direst of all, shutdown. No, last week ended with Congress’s having steered clear of disaster by passing a measure to lift the debt ceiling. Congress functioned, more or less. And yet — here’s the clincher — it looked as ugly as usual, if not uglier.

At issue was the way it functioned, a dysfunction of its own. Over in the House, Republican leaders brought the lifting of the debt ceiling to a vote so that they and a smattering of their party colleagues could pass the measure with the help of nearly all of the Democrats. You might naïvely wonder how this wouldn’t estrange the leaders from their caucus. But you’d be failing to take into account that many members of that caucus wanted the measure to succeed, recognizing that this was in the nation’s interest, but wanted at the same time to vote no, so as not to draw attacks from party extremists. In Congress, this isn’t considered a contradiction. It’s not even considered undignified. It’s considered canny self-preservation. (You serve, above all, to get re-elected.) The phenomenon is common enough that in a recent story in The Times, my colleagues Ashley Parker and Jonathan Weisman assigned it a name: Vote No, Hope Yes.

In a given chamber of Congress, the majority party usually takes responsibility for raising the debt ceiling, while the minority is permitted to balk and rail theatrically about wanton government spending. In fact Barack Obama did such balking and railing when he was in the Democratic minority of the Senate. Now Democrats run the show there, and they were poised to provide the necessary support to get the ceiling lifted. But the inimitable and irrepressible Ted Cruz insisted on a 60-vote threshold to allow the measure to be taken up, and getting past this hurdle required at least five Republicans to side with Democrats.

If the Republicans in the Senate had really cared to doom the measure, this was their big chance. But their true and ardent desire was to appear adamantly opposed without being so, and thus to appease party loudmouths without actually letting those loudmouths get their way.

This was where the brown paper bags would have come in very handy, because to avoid a filibuster and let the measure ultimately succeed, some Republicans had to step up and actually cast a vote in favor of its consideration. Their solution: to conduct this first, procedural vote in silence — an extremely rare and exceedingly curious thing — so that it wasn’t immediately clear to observers which Republicans were effectively helping to make sure the debt ceiling got raised. The theory, presumably, was that by the time it did become clear, those same Republicans would have proceeded to cast a subsequent “no” vote against the raise itself, whose passage required only the simple majority of votes that Democrats alone could provide.

The world’s greatest deliberative body at work! Make sure the children are watching! Inspiring civic lessons for all!

This isn’t just about the debt ceiling. On too many other fronts, the gulf between how lawmakers know they should behave and what they have the political courage to do is painfully wide. This has happened with Hurricane Sandy relief, with the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, with budgetary matters.

The week before last, immigration reform fell apart, and not because of the number of lawmakers who think it’s a horrid idea, but because of the number who think it’s probably a good idea but don’t want to commit to that and confront any blowback.

And last week the Senate, in a 95-3 vote, and the House, by a 326-90 margin, reversed a portion of a budget agreement that would have limited cost-of-living increases in many military veterans’ pensions to 1 percent below the rate of inflation.

Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator and a veteran, told me that the limit, which the Pentagon endorsed, was utterly reasonable and absolutely necessary, and he assured me that most lawmakers knew this. But they worried that if they stood by that conviction, veterans groups would succeed in branding them enemies of the nation’s heroes.

“It’s all about inoculating yourself against the sound bite,” he said. “And now it’s more than a sound bite. It’s also what’s trending on Twitter.” Most lawmakers, he added, believe that the failure to rein in Medicare and Social Security represents a serious threat to the country’s future, but they’re too politically timid to reflect that in their votes.

SUCH cowardice and self-interest aren’t new. But certain wrinkles are. Kerrey mentioned Twitter and, indeed, complaints and catcalls circulate with unprecedented efficiency and reach. It’s quicker for interest groups and opponents to fasten targets on lawmakers’ backs. It’s easier to rouse the rabble.

“With the ability to use computers, it’s worsened,” Mike Castle, a Delaware Republican who served in the House for nearly two decades, said. He added that websites and social media, not to mention cable TV and talk radio, have turned the political atmosphere more broadly and instantaneously caustic. “You have that constant carping. It has made Congress a more difficult place to achieve the greater good.”

Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton University, noted that in the past, some votes in Congress wouldn’t even be recorded by individual lawmakers’ names. There was also more hidden back-room dealing. “That kind of insularity allowed legislators to take positions that might not be politically great but were the right thing to do,” he said.

I asked Kerrey: Do the politicians who frequently buck their own consciences at least feel misgivings about that? Struggle with it?

“Now you’re presuming that they’re in contact with their consciences on a regular basis,” he said. “I haven’t actually met many human beings who are. That’s a tough transaction: looking out for your conscience.”

Here’s what “mancuroc” from Rochester, NY had to say:  “A better idea for the Senate (and the House): compulsory uniforms bearing the logos each of their top twenty direct and indirect contributors, whether they be corporations, superpacs, lobby groups or just plain folks who happen to be billionaires.”  Amen.

Brooks, Cohen, Nocera and Bruni

February 11, 2014

Bobo is showing off.  Bobo made me look up a word:  precariat.  He pretends he gives a crap in “The American Precariat” and gurgles that declining mobility may be symptomatic of a broader crisis of faith in the American dream.  Nary a word about what might have caused this, of course…  Mr. Cohen, in “The B.D.S. Threat,” says the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions Movement targets the end of Israel as a Jewish state.  Mr. Nocera, in “Dogged By Data Theft,” tells how bankers and retailers have left American consumers less secure.  Mr. Bruni has a question in “Panic in the Locker Room!”:  Let me get this, um, straight: Some N.F.L. players can withstand crushing tackles but not an openly gay teammate?  It’s interesting to note that since yesterday evening most of the comments operation at the Times is down — not a comment anywhere, and no way available to leave one, at least for me when I log onto their site.  The only place I found comments available was Krugman’s blog.  Maybe because he’s not afraid of them…  Here’s Bobo:

When foreign visitors used to describe American culture, they generally settled on different versions of one trait: energy. Whether driven by crass motivations or spiritual ones, Americans, visitors agreed, worked more frantically, moved more and switched jobs more than just about anybody else on earth.

That’s changing. In the past 60 years, for example, Americans have become steadily less mobile. In 1950, 20 percent of Americans moved in a given year. Now, it’s around 12 percent. In the 1950s and 1960s, people lived in the same house for an average of five years; now people live in the same house for an average of 8.6 years. When it comes to geographic mobility, we are now at historic lows, no more mobile than people in Denmark or Finland.

Why is this happening? A few theories offer partial explanations, but only partial ones.

It is true that we are an aging nation and older people tend to move less. But today’s young people are much less mobile than young people from earlier generations. Between the 1980s and the 2000s alone, mobility among young adults dropped by 41 percent.

It’s also true that many people are locked into homes with underwater values. But as Timothy Noah pointed out in Washington Monthly, mobility among renters is down just as sharply as mobility among homeowners.

It’s also true that labor markets are getting more homogeneous. It used to be that the jobs found in Pittsburgh were different than the ones found in Atlanta. But now they are more similar, so there is less reason to move from one city to another. But that also fails to explain the tremendous drops over decades.

No, a big factor here is a loss in self-confidence. It takes faith to move. You are putting yourself through temporary expense and hardship because you have faith that over the long run you will slingshot forward. Many highly educated people, who are still moving in high numbers, have that long-term faith. Less-educated people often do not.

One of the oddities of the mobility that does exist is that people are not moving to low-unemployment/high-income areas. Instead they are moving to lower-income areas with cheap housing. That is to say, they are less likely to endure temporary housing hardship for the sake of future opportunity. They are more likely to move to places that offer immediate comfort even if the long-term income prospects are lower.

This loss of faith is evident in other areas of life. Fertility rates, a good marker of confidence, are down. Even accounting for cyclical changes, people are less likely to voluntarily vacate a job in search of a better one. Only 46 percent of white Americans believe they have a good chance of improving their standard of living, the lowest levels in the history of the General Social Survey.

Peter Beinart wrote a fascinating piece for National Journal, arguing that Americans used to have much more faith in capitalism, a classless society, America’s role in the world and organized religion than people from Europe. But now American attitudes resemble European attitudes, and when you just look at young people, American exceptionalism is basically gone.

Fifty percent of Americans over 65 believe America stands above all others as the greatest nation on earth. Only 27 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 believe that. As late as 2003, Americans were more likely than Italians, Brits and Germans to say the “free market economy is the best system on which to base the future of the world.” By 2010, they were slightly less likely than those Europeans to embrace capitalism.

Thirty years ago, a vast majority of Americans identified as members of the middle class. But since 1988, the percentage of Americans who call themselves members of the “have-nots” has doubled. Today’s young people are more likely to believe success is a matter of luck, not effort, than earlier generations.

These pessimistic views bring to mind a concept that’s been floating around Europe: the Precariat. According to the British academic Guy Standing, the Precariat is the growing class of people living with short-term and part-time work with precarious living standards and “without a narrative of occupational development.” They live with multiple forms of insecurity and are liable to join protest movements across the political spectrum.

The American Precariat seems more hunkered down, insecure, risk averse, relying on friends and family but without faith in American possibilities. This fatalism is historically uncharacteristic of America.

No one response is going to reverse the trend, but Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute believes government should offer moving vouchers to the long-term unemployed so they can chase opportunity. If we could induce more people to Go West! (or South, East or North) in search of opportunity, maybe the old future-oriented mind-set would return.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Secretary of State John Kerry caused outrage in Israel recently when he declared: “For Israel there’s an increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There is talk of boycotts and other kinds of things. Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary.”

Members of the Israeli government were indignant. Israel, they declared, will not negotiate under pressure. Advice givers, stay away! But Kerry was only repeating what Israel’s own finance minister, Yair Lapid, had already said: The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement is beginning to bite.

I am a strong supporter of a two-state peace. The messianic idea of Greater Israel, occupying all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, must wither. Jews, having suffered for most of their history as a minority, cannot, as a majority now in their state, keep their boots on the heads of the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank any longer.

Palestinians must accept the permanence of the state of Israel within the 1967 lines with equitable land swaps. Competitive victimhood should cede to collaborative viability for the nation states of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples. Narratives and revealed truth do not a future make. They perpetuate the imprisoning past.

So, in theory, B.D.S. might be a positive factor. When the largest Dutch pension fund and the largest Danish bank withdraw investments from, or cease business with, Israeli banks because of their operations in the settlements, they send a powerful signal to Israel to get out of the West Bank.

Yet these developments make me uneasy for a simple reason: I do not trust the B.D.S. movement. Its stated aim is to end the occupation, secure “full equality” for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and fight for the right of return of all Palestinian refugees. The first objective is essential to Israel’s future. The second is laudable. The third, combined with the second, equals the end of Israel as a Jewish state. This is the hidden agenda of B.D.S., its unacceptable subterfuge: beguile, disguise and suffocate.

The anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa contained no such ambiguity. As Diana Shaw Clark, an activist on behalf of a two-state solution, wrote to me in an email, “People affiliated with divestment in South Africa had no agenda other than the liberation and enfranchisement of an oppressed majority.”

This is not the case in Israel, where the triple objective of B.D.S. would, in Clark’s words, “doom Israel as a national home for the Jews.” Mellifluous talk of democracy and rights and justice masks the B.D.S. objective that is nothing other than the end of the Jewish state for which the United Nations gave an unambiguous mandate in 1947. The movement’s anti-Zionism can easily be a cover for anti-Semitism.

It would be gratifying if Israelis and Palestinians could learn overnight to live together as equal citizens in some United States of the Holy Land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, a binational and democratic secular state that resolves their differences. But it is an illusion to think this could ever happen, the one-state pipe dream. The fault lines are too deep. A single state cannot mark its Day of Independence and Day of Catastrophe on the same date.

One state, however conceived, equals the end of Israel as a Jewish state, the core of the Zionist idea. Jews must not allow this to happen. Trust your neighbor? Been there, tried that.

The so-called right of return of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians driven out in the 1948 war (whose descendants now number in the millions) cannot be exercised, any more than the Jews of Baghdad and Cairo have deeds to return home. There can, and should be, agreed compensation for the dispossessed, but there cannot be a reversal of history. The “right” is in fact a claim.

A Jewish national home is needed. History demonstrated that. It must now be reinvented. For that, the corrosive occupation has to end and with it the settlement industry.

B.D.S. is a wake-up call. I oppose it because I do not trust it. That does not mean, as Lapid intimated, that Israel can ignore its message.

Israel can only be a state of laws again when the lawless enterprise beyond the Green Line ends. West of that line, Israel is a democracy affording greater minority rights than other regional states (Omar Barghouti, a B.D.S. leader, has a master’s degree from Tel Aviv University). But that is not enough. All citizens should enjoy equality in the Jews’ national home, a state where civil marriage becomes possible, state and synagogue are divorced, and Israelis are permitted to identify themselves as Israelis if they so wish, rather than as Jews or Arabs or Druze — that is as undifferentiated citizens.

Next up is Mr. Nocera:

“What is stopping us from moving to this kind of technology?” asked a perplexed Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat from Minnesota. It was last Tuesday, and the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Klobuchar sits, was holding a hearing about the recent breaches of Target and Neiman Marcus in which the data from tens of millions of credit and debit cards were stolen.

The technology Klobuchar had in mind is known as chip-and-PIN. The chip refers to a computer chip embedded in a credit or debit card that encrypts data and authenticates the card. The PIN refers to a personal identification number the customer has to use, which, in effect, authenticates the user.

It is no big secret that, from a security standpoint, a chip-and-PIN system is far superior to the magnetic stripe that is the backbone of the credit and debit card systems in the United States. Criminal gangs in Eastern Europe have learned how to penetrate many computer systems of American retailers and “skim” credit card data at the moment a transaction takes place. That kind of theft would be virtually impossible with a chip-and-PIN system.

Nor is it news that much of the rest of the world long ago adopted chip-and-PIN technology; according to MasterCard, 79 percent of terminals in Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean are “chip-enabled,” a figure that rises to 95 percent in parts of Europe. But, inexplicably, this clearly superior technology has not yet penetrated the United States.

Or maybe it’s not so inexplicable. The main stumbling block, it would appear, is that retailers and bankers have spent way too much time blaming each other for the growing data theft problem — and not nearly enough time worrying about the people whose data have been stolen. Namely, us.

“Why did the U.S. stick with the mag stripe?” said David Robertson, publisher of The Nilson Report. It may not have been best for consumers, but it was “cheap and efficient” for the banks and retailers. What’s more, banks and retailers had a certain amount of fraud built into their business models. Thus, while a hacked card brought big headaches to the customer, it was just another cost of doing business for the other entities involved in the transaction.

Even as Europe and Canada were moving to a chip-and-PIN system, the American banks held back. Fraud at the point of sale dropped dramatically in countries with chip-and-PIN. Still the U.S. held back. Every time there was a push to adopt chip-and-PIN, both retailers and bankers would do the math and come to the same conclusion: It wasn’t worth the trouble.

And when a company did try to adopt it? That’s what Target tried to do around 2003 — only to discover that it was largely a waste of money if nobody else went along. In Europe and elsewhere governments had pushed companies to adopt chip-and-PIN. In the U.S., the banks and retailers needed to be able to work together — spending billions both to manufacture new cards and install new terminals that could read the cards.

There are two things that are likely to change the equation. The first is the Target breach, which, one expert told me, could involve as many as one in every 10 cards in circulation in the United States. Many of the cards are debit cards, which means if the card is used by a crook to make a purchase, it comes directly out of the customer’s bank account. (Target has vowed to indemnify any customer who has losses as a result of the breach.) The Target breach has shown the reputational hit a company can take when its system is breached. It also has had business consequences: the last two weeks of the Christmas season were lousy ones for Target — and the publicity from the breach is considered a prime culprit.

Second, though, Visa and MasterCard have both set forth timetables that attempt to institute the adoption of embedded-chips technology by the fall of 2015. Although the timetables are not mandatory, they would essentially shift the liability for card losses on to whichever side — the bank or the retailer — has the least secure technology. Although there were various calls for delaying the implementation yet again, those calls stopped once the Target breach took place.

Which is not to say that the banks and the retailers are now seeing eye to eye. When I spoke to a bank lobbyist last week, he told me that the real problem was “a weakness in the internal computer system of large companies that sophisticated criminals have learned to exploit.” The retailers, meanwhile, retort that the banks have continually come up with ideas short of chip-and-PIN, none of which ever worked for long before the bad guys figured how to breach them.

The only thing missing from these arguments is the consumer.

And now we get to Mr. Bruni:

A news flash for every straight man out there: You’ve been naked in front of a gay man.

In fact you’ve been naked, over the course of your life, in front of many gay men, at least if you have more than a few years on you. And here you are — uninjured, uncorrupted, intact. The earth still spins. The sun rises and sets.

Maybe it was in gym class, long ago. Maybe at the health club more recently. Or maybe when you played sports at the high school level, the college level, later on. Whether we gay guys are one in 10 or one in 25, it’s a matter of chance: At some point, one of us was within eyeshot when you stripped down.

And you know what? He probably wasn’t checking you out. He certainly wasn’t beaming special gay-conversion gamma rays at you. That’s why you weren’t aware of his presence and didn’t immediately go out and buy a more expensive moisturizer and a disc of Judy Garland’s greatest hits. His purpose mirrored yours. He was changing clothes and showering. It’s a locker room, for heaven’s sake. Not last call at the Rawhide.

On Sunday evening, in a story in The Times by John Branch and on ESPN, a college football star named Michael Sam came out. Because Sam is almost certain to be drafted, he could soon be the first openly gay active player in the National Football League — in any of the four major professional sports in the United States.

Most reactions from the sports world were hugely positive, even inspirational.

Some were not.

“It’d chemically imbalance an N.F.L. locker room,” an N.F.L. personnel assistant, speaking anonymously, said to Sports Illustrated. I think steroids, Adderall and painkillers have already done a pretty thorough job of that, and on the evidence of his comment, they’ve addled minds in the process.

Sports Illustrated quoted an unnamed assistant coach who also brought up the fabled sanctum of Tinactin and testosterone. “There’s nothing more sensitive than the heartbeat of the locker room,” he said. “If you knowingly bring someone in there with that sexual orientation, how are the other guys going to deal with it?”

To his question, a few of my own: When did the locker room become such a delicate ecosystem? Is it inhabited by athletes or orchids? And how is it that gladiators who don’t flinch when a 300-pound mountain of flesh in shoulder pads comes roaring toward them start to quiver at the thought of a homosexual under a nearby nozzle? They may be physical giants, but at least a few of them are psychological pipsqueaks.

And they’re surprisingly blunt and Paleolithic. When NFL Network’s Andrea Kremer recently brought up the possibility of an openly gay player with Jonathan Vilma, a New Orleans Saints linebacker, he said: “Imagine if he’s the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me.”

“How am I supposed to respond?” Vilma added.

Well, a squeal would be unmanly, Mace might not be enough and N.F.L. players tend to use their firearms away from the stadium, so I’d advise him to do what countless females of our species have done with leering males through history. Step away. Move on. Dare I say woman up?

Or Vilma could use a line suggested by the sports journalist Cyd Zeigler on the website Outsports.com: “I’m so telling your boyfriend you stole a peek.”

The anxiety about the locker room makes no sense in terms of the kind of chaotic setting it often is, with all sorts of people rushing through, including reporters of both sexes. It’s a workplace, really, and more bedlam than boudoir.

The anxiety depends on stereotypes of gay men as creatures of preternatural libido. (Thanks, but I lunge faster for pasta than for porn.)

And it’s illogical. “Every player knows that they are playing or have played with gay guys,” John Amaechi, a former pro basketball player who came out after his retirement, told me. It’s just that those gay guys didn’t or haven’t identified themselves. Why would doing so make them a greater threat? Wouldn’t an openly gay athlete have a special investment in proving that there’s zero to worry about?

Michael Sam proved as much at the University of Missouri, where teammates learned of his sexual orientation before their most recent season. They finished 12-2, and are publicly praising him so far. Nothing about trembling or cowering in the showers.

The person who raises that fear, Amaechi said, “is a bigot finally falling over the cliff and grasping for any straw that might keep their purchase. When every rational argument is gone, you go with that.”

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman, Kristof and Bruni

February 9, 2014

The Pasty Little Putz has a question in “Leaving Work Behind:”  Are the effects of Obamacare on employment a sign of things to come?  “Gemli” from Boston had this to say in the comments:  “Douthat tries to intellectualize Republican antics as if they sincerely care about working people, but concern about worker dignity rings hollow when Republicans drive income inequality to extreme levels, weaken safety nets, cut unemployment benefits and kill food stamps.”  The Putz would also do well to read some Krugman.  MoDo also has a question in “Still Mad as Hell:”  What would Paddy Chayefsky say, now that the apocalyptic “Network” has come true a couple thousand times over?  This must be the day for questions, since The Moustache of Wisdom titled his column with one:  “Whose Garbage Is This Anyway?”  He says the Middle East peace process might benefit from a local eco-tour.  In “Inside a Mental Hospital Called Jail” Mr. Kristof says for some of the mentally ill, the only place to get medical treatment these days is behind bars.  Mr. Bruni considers “A Pope You Can Eat” and says Francis has sensed the world’s appetite for a sweeter kind of sermon.  Here’s the Putz:

In 1930, in the darkening valley of the Great Depression, John Maynard Keynes wrote an essay on “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” which foresaw a much happier future — one of growth, abundance and the steady decline of full-time work. Eventually, he suggested, civilization might settle on a 15-hour workweek, with three hours of daily labor being sufficient “to satisfy the old Adam in most of us.”

Compared with its Depression-era baseline, much of Keynes’s optimistic vision was prophetic. But the universal 15-hour workweek is not exactly with us yet. Instead, a different trend seems to be emerging, in which well-educated professionals — inspired by rising pay and status-obsessed competition — often work longer hours than they did a few decades ago, while poorer Americans, especially poorer men, are increasingly disconnected from the labor force entirely. (That this trend coincides with widening inequality is not coincidental.)

When economists look ahead to the possibilities awaiting our grandchildren, they often see this divide widening even further, as the digital economy delivers rich rewards to certain kinds of highly educated talent, while revolutions in robotics eliminate many of today’s low-skilled, low-wage jobs.

This context is crucial to understanding the debate that erupted last week over Obamacare’s impact on work-force participation. The Congressional Budget Office had always predicted that the new health care law’s mix of direct benefits and indirect incentives would encourage some people to cut their hours or leave their jobs outright. But its latest report revised the estimate substantially upward, predicting that by 2021, the equivalent of 2.3 million full-time workers — most of them low-wage — could disappear from the American economy.

That big number prompted Republicans to recycle their predictions that the health care law would be a “job killer.” As liberals retorted, this is not exactly right: These would be working hours freely given up, not jobs lost in huge Obamacare-induced layoffs. Any health care reform worthy of the name would have some version of this effect: If you weaken the link between insurance and employment, workers will have one less reason to stay at a job they dislike. And it’s easy to envision cases where the ability to reduce one’s working hours would be an unmitigated good — for ailing near-retirees, for parents of young children.

At the same time, though, the design of Obamacare — Medicaid expansion, subsidies for comprehensive rather than catastrophic coverage, and then the way the subsidy disappears if you get a raise or take a higher-paying job — makes the work disincentive much more substantial than it would be under, say, a conservative alternative that offers everyone a flat credit to buy a catastrophic plan.

So the new law’s impact on work will be felt well beyond families juggling jobs and child care. One of the studies used to model the consequences of Obamacare, for instance, found a strong work disincentive while looking at a population of childless, able-bodied, mostly working-class adults — a demographic that’s already becoming more and more detached from steady, paying work.

And this is where liberalism has a very important choice to make. It’s possible to defend Obamacare’s overall goals while also recognizing its potentially perverse effects, and conceding that we should try to minimize the number of low-skilled workers exiting the labor market.

But it’s also possible to argue that as a rich, post-scarcity society, we shouldn’t really care that much about whether the poor choose to work. The important thing is just making sure they have a decent standard of living, full stop, and if they choose Keynesian leisure over a low-paying job, that’s their business.

There are hints of a division within the liberal mind on this issue. Across the left and center-left, there’s agreement that an unequal society requires a thicker social safety net, and that as technological changes undercut low-wage work, government should help those left behind.

But in the Obamacare debate and elsewhere, it’s not always clear whether this larger welfare state is supposed to promote a link between work, security and mobility, or to substitute for work’s gradual decline. On the left, there’s a growing tendency toward both pessimism and utopianism — with doubts about the compatibility of capitalism and democracy, and skepticism about the possibility for true equality of opportunity, feeding a renewed interest in 1970s-era ideas like a universal basic income.

On the conservative side, things are somewhat clearer. There are libertarians who like the basic income idea, but only as a substitute for the existing welfare state, not as a new expansion. Both “rugged individualist” right-wingers and more communitarian conservatives tend to see work as essential to dignity, mobility and social equality, and see its decline as something to be fiercely resisted.

The question is whether tomorrow’s liberals will be our allies in that fight.

Yeah, right.  We’re about to ally with the mole people.  Here’s MoDo:

I often wonder what Paddy would think.

I wish I could have a pastrami on wry with the late writer and satirist at the Carnegie Deli and get an exhilarating blast of truth about “the atomic, subatomic and galactic structure of things today.”

What would Paddy Chayefsky make of Kim Kardashian?

What would he think of Diane Sawyer showing cat videos on the ABC evening news?

What would he say about Brian Williams broadcasting on the Huntley-Brinkley network a video of a pig saving a baby goat while admitting he had no idea if it was phony? (It was.)

What would Paddy rant about the viral, often venomous world of the Internet, Twitter and cable news, where fake rage is all the rage all the time, bleeding over into a Congress that chooses antagonism over accomplishment, no over yes?

What would he think of ominous corporate “synergy” run amok, where “news” seamlessly blends into promotion, where it’s frighteningly easy for corporate commercial interests to dictate editorial content?

What would Paddy say about the Murdochization of the news, where a network slants its perspective because it sells and sells big?

What would he make of former Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief Norman Pearlstine returning in a new position as Time Inc.’s chief content officer, breaking the firewall between editorial and business as he works “with business and edit teams to drive the development of new content experiences and products throughout our portfolio that will fuel future revenue growth,” as C.E.O. Joe Ripp put it?

What would Paddy think of American corporations skipping out on taxes by earning nearly half of their profits in tax-haven countries?

What would he think of the unholy alliance between Internet giants like Google and Facebook and the U.S. national security apparatus?

Chayefsky’s dazzling satire “Network,” with its unforgettable mad prophet of the airwaves, Howard Beale, blossomed from the writer’s curdled feelings about TV. What wouldn’t the network suits do for ratings, he would ask lunch companions like Mel Brooks and Bob Fosse at the Carnegie Deli.

But now America runs on clicks. Chayefsky’s nightmare has been multiplied many times over, with the total media-ization and monetization of everything, the supremacy of ratings and market share, the commercialization of all editorial decisions.

Now that they’re armed with big data and science, corporate bosses are able to figure out how many people are watching which minute of which segment.

An analytics service called Chartbeat gives webmasters instantaneous access to those on the other side of the screen by providing real-time data on their mouse clicks, time spent reading or watching, and even their location.

In his fun upcoming book, “Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies,” Dave Itzkoff, a culture reporter at The Times, offers a vivid portrait of the charming and depressed curmudgeon.

Itzkoff has great anecdotes about Faye Dunaway’s prima donna paranoia about the most brilliant love-work sex scene in movie history. And he dishes up fun factoids, like how Howard Beale got his name from the mother-daughter duo, “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” Beale, and how Peter Finch flubbed and added an extra “as” to one of the most famous lines in movie history, which Chayefsky wrote this way: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.”

The Bronx-born writer, who died of cancer in 1981, was bedraggled and “built like an office safe,” as the director Joshua Logan put it. He did exhaustive research into networks in New York, but then had to film the movie at a Toronto TV station once the American networks realized the piece was a Strangelovey dirge.

Chayefsky said his 1976 masterpiece was “a rage against the dehumanization of people” addicted to “boredom-killing” devices — a dehumanization that has gone to warp speed as we have entered the cloud. He said it was about “how to protect ourselves” from “the illusion we sell as truth.”

That illusion is ever more pervasive as people believe and spread wacky viral content like snow-covered Pyramids, a half-toilet in Sochi and a story about Samsung paying Apple a billion-dollar fine in nickels.

Chayefsky warned against “comicalizing the news,” noting “To make a gag out of the news is disreputable and extremely destructive.” But real news became so diminished that young people turned to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to learn about what was going on in the world.

Colbert told Itzkoff that “Network” is his favorite movie. Although Howard Beale is not an inspiration for his bombastic TV alter ego, Colbert said that the Beale character anticipated an attitude those types of broadcasters share, which is “I will tell you what to think.” Beale’s approach, the comic said, was more “quasi-benevolent,” as in “I’m going to remind you that you’re being anesthetized right now.”

If Paddy, who used to say “truth is truth,” could see how far beyond “Network” we’ve gone, he would not only be mad as hell. He’d be scared as hell.

Next up we have The Moustache of Wisdom, writing from Hebron, West Bank:

It was not your usual Holy Land tour, but surely one of the most revealing I’ve ever had. A team from Friends of the Earth Middle East took me around to see how waste, sewage and untreated water flow, or don’t, between Israel and the West Bank. I never realized how political garbage and dirty water could be, or how tracking it could reveal just why making peace here is so urgent.

For starters, who knew that when you flush the toilet in your hotel in the eastern half of Jerusalem the wastewater likely ends up in the Dead Sea — untreated? It flows from Jerusalem’s sewers into the Kidron Stream. If you can stand the stench, you can watch it all rush by about a mile east and downhill from Jerusalem. Germany offered to pay for a treatment plant, but for the past 20 years Israel and the Palestinian Authority have not been able to agree on how to split the treated water — which originates in both Jewish and Arab drains, so nothing has happened. As a result, Mother Nature alone does her best to filter it as it flows down to the Jordan Valley, where Jewish settlers use some of this poorly treated water to irrigate their date palms. The rest ends up in the Dead Sea. Good thing it’s already dead.

We’ve learned in the last few years that the colonial boundaries of the Middle East do not correspond to the ethnic, sectarian and tribal boundaries — and it is one reason that some Arab states are breaking up. But neither do the ecosystem boundaries correspond with any borders or walls. And the fact that Israelis and Palestinians have not been able to reach a power-sharing agreement that would enable them to treat the entire ecosystem here as a system is catching up with them.

When the region got hit in January 2013 with snow and rain from a freak and massive storm, the runoff was so powerful down the Alexander Stream, which flows from the Shomron Mountains near the West Bank town of Nablus into Israel, that it overflowed. So instead of going under the thick cement wall Israel has erected around the West Bank to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers, the flood blew away a whole chunk of that wall. Mother Nature laughs at our “green lines.”

Now consider what is going on in the Hebron Industrial Zone, home to 13 tanning factories, including the Al-Walied for Leather and Tanning Company, where hides are hanging everywhere from the ceiling and a single worker is putting them through a machine that squeezes out the moisture from the softening process.

The problem, explained Malek Abu al-Failat, from the Bethlehem office of Friends of the Earth Middle East, which brings Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians together on one team, is that the tanneries use chromium 3 to soften the hides and then let the effluence flow into the drains and down the Hebron Stream. That effluence exceeds 5,000 milligrams of chromium 3 per liter. The global safety standard is 5 milligrams! When the chromium 3 hits the water and oxygen, it becomes chromium 6, a known carcinogen. So, in 1998, the U.S. Agency for International Development built a treatment plant here that effectively extracts all the chromium 3 and recycles it. But, in 2005, Israel identified the sulfuric acid used in the recycling as a dual-use chemical that Palestinians could employ to make a bomb and banned its use by tanners. So the chromium 6 is now back in the water, which flows from Hebron to Beersheba, one of Israel’s largest cities, and then on to Gaza and out to sea, into waters used by Israel’s desalination plants.

We visited the Al-Minya Sanitary Landfill that was built with grants from the World Bank, European Union and USAID so Palestinians could close down 19 unauthorized and unsanitary dump sites around Bethlehem and Hebron. It was supposed to open in September, but, as I saw, its 65 acres were still pristine because the Israeli military told the Palestinian Authority that if the site didn’t also accept garbage from the Gush Etzion Jewish settlements it could not open, said Failat. Palestinians say it’s unfair that they lose their land to settlements and then have to accept their garbage.

Meanwhile, Gaza, which has been woefully mismanaged by Hamas, is pumping all its drinking water from its coastal aquifer at triple its renewable rate of recharge. As a result, saltwater is seeping in. Last year, the U.N. said that by 2016 there will be no potable water left in Gaza’s main aquifer. Gaza has no big desalination plant and would not have the electricity to run it anyway. I don’t want to be here when 1.5 million Gazans really get thirsty.

Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians actually have all the resources needed to take care of everyone, but only if they collaborate, explained Gidon Bromberg, co-founder of Friends of the Earth Middle East. Israel, which is the world leader in desalination and wastewater recycling, could use its own cheap natural gas and solar power generated in Jordan — where there is lots of sunny desert —  “to provide desalinated and recycled water for itself, Gaza, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.”

Everyone would win, which is why Bromberg suggests that Secretary of State John Kerry take Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on an eco-tour to see “the seeping time bomb that’s ticking underneath both of them.” It, too, will explode if they don’t forge a deal that enables them to live apart, but in a framework that also enables them to work together to protect the water, soil and air that they will always have in common and can only be preserved by acting in common.

When he’s done with that maybe Kerry can talk to the Republicans regarding regulations in this country so West Virginia’s water isn’t poisoned again…  And now we get to Mr. Kristof, writing from Chicago:

The largest mental health center in America is a huge compound here in Chicago, with thousands of people suffering from manias, psychoses and other disorders, all surrounded by high fences and barbed wire.

Just one thing: It’s a jail. The only way to get treatment is to be arrested.

Psychiatric disorders are the only kind of sickness that we as a society regularly respond to not with sympathy but with handcuffs and incarceration. And as more humane and cost-effective ways of treating mental illness have been cut back, we increasingly resort to the law-enforcement toolbox: jails and prisons.

More than half of prisoners in the United States have a mental health problem, according to a 2006 Justice Department study. Among female inmates, almost three-quarters have a mental disorder.

In the jail here, some prisoners sit on their beds all day long, lost in their delusions, oblivious to their surroundings, hearing voices, sometimes talking back to them. The first person to say that this system is barbaric is their jailer.

“It’s criminalizing mental illness,” the Cook County sheriff, Thomas Dart, told me as he showed me the jail, on a day when 60 percent of the jail’s intake reported that they had been diagnosed with mental illness. Dart says the system is abhorrent and senseless, as well as an astronomically expensive way to treat mental illness — but that he has no choice but to accept schizophrenic, bipolar, depressive and psychotic prisoners delivered by local police forces.

People are not officially incarcerated because of psychiatric ailments, but that’s the unintended effect. Sheriff Dart says that although some mentally ill people commit serious crimes, the great majority are brought in for offenses that flow from mental illness.

One 47-year-old man I spoke to, George, (I’m not permitted to use last names for legal reasons) is bipolar, hears voices and abuses drugs and alcohol. He said he had been arrested five times since October for petty offenses. The current offense is criminal trespass for refusing to leave a Laundromat.

The sheriff says such examples are common and asks: “How will we be viewed, 20, 30, 50 years from now? We’ll be looked on as the ones who locked up all the mentally ill people.

“It really is one of those things so rich with irony: The same society that abhorred the idea that we lock people up in mental hospitals, now we lock people up in jails.”

A few data snapshots:

• Nationwide in America, more than three times as many mentally ill people are housed in prisons and jails as in hospitals, according to a 2010 study by the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Treatment Advocacy Center.

• Mentally ill inmates are often preyed upon while incarcerated, or disciplined because of trouble following rules. They are much more likely than other prisoners, for example, to be injured in a fight in jail, the Justice Department says.

• Some 40 percent of people with serious mental illnesses have been arrested at some point in their lives.

In the 1800s, Dorothea Dix led a campaign against the imprisonment of the mentally ill, leading to far-reaching reforms and the establishment of mental hospitals. Now we as a society have, in effect, returned to the 1800s.

Among those jailed here is Russell, 46, who is being held for burglarizing a garage. He has been diagnosed with severe depression and said that he self-medicates with alcohol and drugs. Most of his adult life has been spent behind bars for one offense after another, and he said he became aware of his mental health problems when he was being clubbed by a thug with a baseball bat and realized that he was enjoying it.

“I just want to be normal,” he said as we spoke in a large dormitory room for inmates with psychiatric problems. “I want to have a job. I’ve never had a job. I want to be able to say hi to a co-worker.” He stopped, and there were tears in his eyes.

In 1955, there was one bed in a psychiatric ward for every 300 Americans; now there is one for every 3,000 Americans, the 2010 study said. So while more effective pharmacological treatments are theoretically available, they are often very difficult to access for people who are only borderline functional.

“Some people come here to get medication,” says Ardell Hall, a superintendent of a women’s unit at the jail. “They commit a crime to get in.”

India, a 42-year-old woman, suffers from manic depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. She said she tried at various times to get psychiatric care but found it almost impossible, so she self-medicates when on the outside with heroin — and has spent almost all of her adult life in jails and prisons on a succession of nonviolent offenses relating to drugs and shoplifting.

Taxpayers spend as much as $300 or $400 a day supporting patients with psychiatric disorders while they are in jail, partly because the mentally ill require medication and extra supervision and care.

“Fiscally, this is the stupidest thing I’ve seen government do,” Dart says. It would be far cheaper, he adds, to manage the mentally ill with a case worker on the outside than to spend such sums incarcerating them.

Cook County has implemented an exemplary system for mental health support for inmates. While in jail, they often stabilize. Then they are released, go off their medications and the cycle repeats.

One woman in the jail, Kristen, said she had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders. On the outside, her prescription medication cost $100 a month, so she skipped it.

“When I’m not on my medicine on a regular basis, I don’t make decisions well,” she said, explaining her long arrest record for theft and narcotics offenses. I asked her if access to medicine would keep her out of jail, and she said: “I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, to be totally honest. But it would help.”

As Sheriff Dart puts it: “We’ve systematically shut down all the mental health facilities, so the mentally ill have nowhere else to go. We’ve become the de facto mental health hospital.”

Do we really want to go back two centuries? Doesn’t that seem not only inhumane but also deluded — on our part?

And we end today’s festivities with Mr. Bruni:

The pope, a porn star and a parrot walk into a bar.

Well, almost. Their point of intersection just a week and a half ago was actually St. Peter’s Square, and “porn star” stretches things: The performer in question was reportedly a former male stripper who had graduated to racy movies and, this being Italy, was once head of his town council. Sounds like prime minister material to me. A chip off the old Silvio.

He brought the bird, named Amore, to meet the pope, meaning Francis, who was taking one of his routine spins among the flock in the popemobile. Amore caught Francis’ eye, perched briefly on one of his fingers and squawked what the crowd was chanting: “Papa!” Those syllables, I’d bet, were a big improvement over other utterances Amore has learned to mimic.

It’s amazing what you miss if you don’t stay on top of Vatican news these days.

Did you hear about the Harley? A gift to Francis that he put his signature on but apparently never used, the motorcycle was just auctioned off for more than $275,000.

Or his recent introduction to a life-size likeness of himself made out of chocolate? Pope Benedict XVI was known as “God’s Rottweiler.” Pope Francis has a dessert doppelgänger. That pretty much says it all.

It was Pope John Paul II who was often called a rock star, but it’s Francis who just landed on the cover of Rolling Stone, as if he were Jagger, Springsteen or Spears. Seeing him there was like finding Mitch McConnell scowling below the logo of Tiger Beat.

On my vague mental list of things that might someday come back into fashion, the papacy was never present. I used to cover it for The Times, from 2002 to 2004, and was convinced then that my beat wasn’t just a dying man — John Paul could barely walk and struggled to talk — but a dying institution, at least in the United States and much of Europe.

But the bevy of bulletins from Rome and the merry nature of so many of them suggest that people everywhere, even in the more godless precincts of the Western world, can’t get enough of this new pope and are committed to giving him the benefit of the doubt. The United Nations last week issued a blistering and wholly warranted report about the Roman Catholic Church’s coddling of sexually abusive priests and its evasion of full accountability, but in none of the news coverage was Francis put on the hot seat. There was this implicit notion that the mess predated and had little to do with him, which is ridiculous: He’s been a part of this institution for a long time, and if he’d been agitating for reform and full transparency all these years, he’d never have ascended to the top.

He’s no renegade. But he is the equivalent of a corporate turnaround artist or a political strategist who deftly breathes fresh life into a sputtering enterprise. I use those secular metaphors because his rehabilitation of the papacy has so much secular resonance and so many secular lessons.

Like this: If you’re going to define yourself in opposition to a predecessor whom many people had misgivings about, go all the way. Francis is the Bill de Blasio to Benedict’s Michael Bloomberg, doing a complete semiotic overhaul. Less investment in festive footwear, more in the washing of other people’s feet. He’s not telling priests to stop being priests, any more than de Blasio is telling the police to stop being the police. He’s just urging them to tamp down the brusqueness and bullying. No more theological stop-and-frisk.

He understands that tone trumps content — that it’s everything, really. The writer Damon Linker has contributed lively, intelligent pieces of commentary to the publications The Week and The New Republic that take Francis-fawning journalists to task for seeing a revolution that’s just not there. Linker asserts that the church, under this pope, has not in fact changed its teaching about homosexuality, the ordination of women, celibacy or any of that.

And he’s absolutely correct. But he gives short shrift to what a difference a smile and a shrug make. Francis, who has mastered both, may not be telling the church’s scolds that they have to relinquish their dogma, but his manner and diction are telling everyone else that he’s not going to harangue them — that it’s neither his inclination nor his place. And that’s huge. “Who am I to judge?” he said. This, from a pope, is like Streisand saying, “Who am I to sing?” It’s a bit of self-effacement that you never saw coming.

Francis has also grasped that timing is everything, a point proved by the reception to his recent apostolic exhortation about the corrosive effects of greed in the world. This statement was lauded as a bold, overdue enunciation of muffled Catholic principle, but his predecessors, even Benedict in his fur-lined stole, didn’t exactly cheer the excesses of corporate titans and upbraid the underclass for being loafers hooked on government largess. Charity for the poor is as consistent a message as any the church preaches. Francis just landed his sermon at the perfect moment of welling anxiety about income inequality, and he had the additional savvy to pepper it with words and phrases at the heart of the heated political debate about what to do.

Besides, he’s attentive to the coordination of message and optics. Advocating generosity toward the needy is infinitely more effective when you’ve traded the usual papal residence for a less-regal guesthouse and the customary chariot for a Ford Focus. It has a practicing-what-you-preach modesty and authenticity to it.

Above all, Francis has recognized and taken advantage of the fact that people of all stripes — liberals, conservatives — are as hungry for saints as they are for, well, chocolate. They may not have much patience for the vocabulary of shame and the fustiest definitions of sin, but they want examples of goodness and calls to grace, and they’ll respond eagerly to the ones that don’t come with exclusionary rules and harping about penance. That’s part of what gave Mandela and Gandhi such currency beyond their countries. They were spiritual leaders minus the catechism. The world has no glut of these.

“I believe in God, not in a Catholic God,” Francis has said, and he’s even expressed respect for atheists. When one of the stars of “Philomena” and the woman on whom it’s based visited the Vatican last week, he wasn’t put off by complaints about the movie’s anti-Catholicism or suspicion that the pair’s visit was part of an Oscar campaign. He welcomed and met with them.

An ecumenical papacy, he realizes, has more sway and stamina than a narrowly, stridently pious one. It’s a big tent he’s unfurling. Parrots and porn stars welcome.

Brooks, Cohen, Nocera and Bruni

February 4, 2014

Bobo has a question in “What Machines Can’t Do:”  What human skills will become more valuable as computers take over more and more duties?  “Gemli” from Boston had this to say in the comments:  “This is one of Mr. Brooks’ favorite themes. His dystopian conservative visions always seem to end up with a few people of exceptional creative power running the show, while the rest of us polish their silver.”  And I guess the people running the show will always need someone like Bobo to carry water for them, and fawn over them.  Mr. Cohen, in “The Talks, Round Two,” says neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have fully embraced peace, but Kerry is making progress.  In “The Gun Report, 1 Year Later” Mr. Nocera says when you track gun violence every day, a few things really stand out.  Mr. Bruni ponders “Love, Death and Sochi” and says let these Olympics be a lesson. For too many gays, the heart is a prison.  Here’s Bobo:

We’re clearly heading into an age of brilliant technology. Computers are already impressively good at guiding driverless cars and beating humans at chess and Jeopardy. As Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology point out in their book “The Second Machine Age,” computers are increasingly going to be able to perform important parts of even mostly cognitive jobs, like picking stocks, diagnosing diseases and granting parole.

As this happens, certain mental skills will become less valuable because computers will take over. Having a great memory will probably be less valuable. Being able to be a straight-A student will be less valuable — gathering masses of information and regurgitating it back on tests. So will being able to do any mental activity that involves following a set of rules.

But what human skills will be more valuable?

In the news business, some of those skills are already evident. Technology has rewarded sprinters (people who can recognize and alertly post a message on Twitter about some interesting immediate event) and marathoners (people who can write large conceptual stories), but it has hurt middle-distance runners (people who write 800-word summaries of yesterday’s news conference). Technology has rewarded graphic artists who can visualize data, but it has punished those who can’t turn written reporting into video presentations.

More generally, the age of brilliant machines seems to reward a few traits. First, it rewards enthusiasm. The amount of information in front of us is practically infinite; so is that amount of data that can be collected with new tools. The people who seem to do best possess a voracious explanatory drive, an almost obsessive need to follow their curiosity. Maybe they started with obsessive gaming sessions, or marathon all-night study sessions, but they are driven to perform extended bouts of concentration, diving into and trying to make sense of these bottomless information oceans.

In his book, “Smarter Than You Think,” Clive Thompson describes the work of Deb Roy, who wired his house with equipment so he and his team could monitor and record every word he and his wife uttered while his son was learning to speak. That is total commitment and total immersion in an attempt to understand the language learning process.

Second, the era seems to reward people with extended time horizons and strategic discipline. When Garry Kasparov was teaming with a computer to play freestyle chess (in which a human and machine join up to play against another human and machine), he reported that his machine partner possessed greater “tactical acuity,” but he possessed greater “strategic guidance.”

That doesn’t seem too surprising. A computer can calculate a zillion options, move by move, but a human can provide an overall sense of direction and a conceptual frame. In a world of online distractions, the person who can maintain a long obedience toward a single goal, and who can filter out what is irrelevant to that goal, will obviously have enormous worth.

Third, the age seems to reward procedural architects. The giant Internet celebrities didn’t so much come up with ideas, they came up with systems in which other people could express ideas: Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, etc. That is to say they designed an architecture that possesses a center of gravity, but which allowed loose networks of soloists to collaborate.

One of the oddities of collaboration is that tightly knit teams are not the most creative. Loosely bonded teams are, teams without a few domineering presences, teams that allow people to think alone before they share results with the group. So a manager who can organize a decentralized network around a clear question, without letting it dissipate or clump, will have enormous value.

Fifth, essentialists will probably be rewarded. Any child can say, “I’m a dog” and pretend to be a dog. Computers struggle to come up with the essence of “I” and the essence of “dog,” and they really struggle with coming up with what parts of “I-ness” and “dog-ness” should be usefully blended if you want to pretend to be a dog.

This is an important skill because creativity can be described as the ability to grasp the essence of one thing, and then the essence of some very different thing, and smash them together to create some entirely new thing.

In the 1950s, the bureaucracy was the computer. People were organized into technocratic systems in order to perform routinized information processing. But now the computer is the computer. The role of the human is not to be dispassionate, depersonalized or neutral. It is precisely the emotive traits that are rewarded: the voracious lust for understanding, the enthusiasm for work, the ability to grasp the gist, the empathetic sensitivity to what will attract attention and linger in the mind.

Unable to compete when it comes to calculation, the best workers will come with heart in hand.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Munich:

For six months now Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, led respectively by Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat, have been tied up in U.S.-mediated peace negotiations. For a few minutes at the Munich Security Conference participants caught a glimpse of how stormy those talks can be.

The catalyst was a little phrase from Erekat. “I wish the Israelis would stop running without being chased,” he said. “Am I a threat to you?”

Erekat’s an amiable fellow who has been jaw-jawing about a Middle East peace for so long he mumbles “Area C” in his sleep, but Livni was not about to let him have that one. Pulling her hair back she let him have it, a guttural volley about Palestinian rockets from Gaza on Sderot, terrorists in the West Bank, the perennial Israeli insecurity.

Then she was on to narrative — that overused word for the events, real or imagined, that define the nationhood of warring peoples — and warning Erekat that if there ever is a final-status, two-state peace ending all claims, “Don’t call Haifa by its Palestinian name” or give hope of return there to those “with keys around their necks” in Palestinian refugee camps.

This infuriated Erekat. Proclaiming himself a proud son of 10,000-year-old Jericho, he declared, “I’m not going to change my narrative, guys.” He demanded of Livni why she demanded of him that Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people when Egypt and Jordan made peace without doing so.

And on we go, enmeshed in the claims and counterclaims and neuroses of two peoples eyeing the same small scarred patch of Biblical land — Israelis convinced after the Second Intifada and the experience of the Gaza withdrawal that living in security beside a Palestinian state is near impossible, Palestinians convinced after almost a half-century of occupation that the Israeli boot on their heads will never be withdrawn. The claws of the past are tenacious; Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to prize them loose.

He has made a little headway. Something more unexpected was in the air between the two sides at Munich, a familiarity, a rejection of failure, a sense of modest momentum, all summed up by Livni when she said the current opportunity could not be missed because “the cost of not having an agreement is greater than the cost of having an agreement.” Kerry has now kept the two sides in the room long enough to reduce the room for — and raise the price of — leaving. Ehud Barak, the former Israeli defense minister, told me that “Kerry’s obsession is the most important thing.”

Within the next several weeks the United States will produce a framework setting out the broad terms of a peace agreement. This will reflect the work done and provide the scaffolding for an extension of the talks beyond the initial nine months, a deadline up in late March. I expect Israelis and Palestinians to agree, with serious caveats, to this American proposal and negotiations to proceed through most, if not all, of 2014.

Kerry and his envoy Martin Indyk have recently indicated, in public and leaked remarks, what will be in the framework. The elements include what Kerry has called “a full, phased, final withdrawal of the Israeli Army;” security arrangements in the Jordan Valley and elsewhere that leave Israel “more secure, not less;” a “just and agreed solution to the Palestinian refugee problem;” mutual recognition of “the nation-state of the Palestinian people and the nation-state of the Jewish people;” and a compromise for Jerusalem enabling the city to embody “the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Borders established through equitable land swaps around the 1967 lines would place most settlers inside Israel, perhaps more than 70 percent of them, but the fates of the big settlements of Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim are deeply contentious.

This is not rocket science. The core elements of any two-state deal are well known. But neither side has been ready to embrace the suboptimal middle ground where peace is made. What is needed now are “pull factors” that begin to allay the core fears of both sides.

Palestinians need to feel the Israeli vise is loosening — that, for example, in the Israeli-controlled “Area C,” which accounts for some 60 percent of the West Bank, investment, construction and free movement become possible, creating jobs and stirring growth. Israelis need proof that their concerns about security are being heard. Palestinian agreement to a five-year phased Israeli withdrawal is a start, but Gaza under Hamas is a huge problem going forward. A Palestinian election is overdue; without one Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, lacks the authority to deliver the peace he seeks.

In Munich, Henry Kissinger growled to Indyk: “Martin, you have a job for life.” He’s probably right. Nobody ever lost money betting against a Middle Eastern peace; I’ve done so myself. But Kerry has moved the ball.

Next up we have Mr. Nocera:

It has been a year since my assistant, Jennifer Mascia, and I started publishing The Gun Report, an effort to use my blog to aggregate daily gun violence in America. Our methodology is pretty simple: We do a Google News search each weekday morning for the previous day’s shootings and then list them. Most days, we have been finding between 20 and 30 shootings; on Mondays, when we also add the weekend’s violence, the number is usually well over 100.

From the start, we knew we were missing a lot more incidents than we found. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after all, says that nearly 32,000 people are killed by guns each year. Slate, the online magazine, which tried to tally every gun death in the year after the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., arrived at a number of 12,042, far higher than ours. (We include gun injuries as well as gun deaths.)

Part of the issue, as Slate has noted, is that it is impossible to track suicides using news media accounts — and suicides, according to the C.D.C., account for some 60 percent of gun deaths. But it was also obvious that a Google News search was bound to miss plenty of examples; that’s just the nature of the beast. Comprehensiveness was never really the point, though. Mostly we were trying to get a feel for the scale and scope of gun violence in America. A year later, it seems like a good time to take stock.

First, the biggest surprise, especially early on, was how frequently either a child accidentally shot another child — using a loaded gun that happened to be lying around — or an adult accidentally shot a child while handling a loaded gun. I have written about this before, mainly because these incidents seem so preventable. Gun owners simply need to keep their guns locked away. Indeed, one pro-gun reader, Malcolm Smith, told me that after reading “about the death toll, especially to children” in The Gun Report, he had come to believe that some gun regulation was necessary. He now thinks gun owners should be licensed and “should have to learn how to store guns safely.” No doubt he’ll be drummed out of the National Rifle Association for expressing such thoughts.

Second, the N.R.A. shibboleth that having a gun in one’s house makes you safer is demonstrably untrue. After The Gun Report had been up and running for a while, several Second Amendment advocates complained that we rarely published items that showed how guns were used to prevent a crime. The reason was not that we were biased against crime prevention; it was that it didn’t happen very often. (When we found such examples, we put them in The Gun Report.) More to the point, there are an increasing number of gun deaths that are the result of an argument — often fueled by alcohol — among friends, neighbors and family members. Sadly, cases like the recent shooting in a Florida movie theater — when one man killed someone who was texting during the previews — is not all that uncommon.

Third, gang shootings are everywhere. You see it in the big cities, like Chicago, Detroit and Miami, and you see it in smaller cities in economic decline like Flint, Mich., and Fort Wayne, Ind. Drive-by shootings are prevalent in California, especially Los Angeles and Fresno. As often as gang members shoot each other, they kill innocent victims, often children who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Among the readers who post daily comments to The Gun Report are a number of gun rights advocates. What has been astonishing to me is the degree to which they tend to dismiss inner-city violence, as if to say that such killings are unavoidable. The code word they often use is “demographics.”

It is unquestionably true that the most gun homicides occur in the inner cities — the anecdotes we collect in The Gun Report are confirmed by such studies as a May 2013 Bureau of Justice Statistics report. And, yes, plenty of them are the result of gang violence. But why should that make them any less lamentable, or preventable?

There are an estimated 300 million guns in America, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. But to read The Gun Report is to be struck anew at the reality that most of the people who die from guns would still be alive if we just had fewer of them. The guys in the movie theater would have had a fistfight instead of a shooting. The momentary flush of anger would pass. The suicidal person might have taken a pause if taking one’s life were more difficult. And on, and on. The idea that guns, on balance, save lives — which is one of the most common sentiments expressed in the pro-gun comments posted to The Gun Report — is ludicrous.

On the contrary: The clearest message The Gun Report sends is the most obvious. Guns make killing way too easy.

And now we get to Mr. Bruni:

There are few moments sweeter, more humbling or more thrilling than telling someone you love how you feel.

As soon as Roger Mbede did that, he was damned.

This happened in Cameroon, which, like many African countries, treats homosexuality as if it were a curse, a scourge. He lost sight of that, and made the mistake of sending several text messages that were too candid, too trusting.

“I’m very much in love with you,” one of them said, and the man who got it, apparently worried that he was being set up, turned Roger in. Law enforcement officers scrutinized all of his correspondence for suggestions of sexual activity with people of the same gender, which can lead to a prison sentence of five years.

One of his lawyers, Alice Nkom, told me that they also made him strip so that they could examine his anus, as if the ultimate proof would be there. This isn’t unusual in such interrogations, she said, and it was just the start of his degradation after his March 2011 arrest. The end came last month, when he died at 34.

I’ll come back to that. But first, the reason I’m sharing his story.

On Thursday the Olympics begin. Worldwide attention will turn to Sochi, Russia, and there will be a spike in commentary about Russia’s dangerously homophobic climate, which has already prompted discussion and protest.

But while this will be an important reminder of the kind of persecution that L.G.B.T. people endure in a country openly hostile to them, it will also be an incomplete one. Russia’s hardly the worst.

Although it has an easily abused and utterly ridiculous law against so-called gay propaganda, it doesn’t technically criminalize same-sex activity. About 75 other countries do, and by the laws or customs of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania, Sudan and certain parts of Nigeria and Somalia, such activity is even punishable by death. Gays, it turns out, are handy scapegoats, distracting people from the grave problems that really hold them back.

In Nigeria, the president signed new legislation last month that establishes 14-year prison sentences for anyone who enters into a same-sex union and 10-year sentences for people who publicly display same-sex affection or who simply participate in gay groups. There have since been accounts of gay people being rounded up. A man in northern Nigeria was publicly whipped for having had sex with another man seven years earlier. A BBC reporter described how the man screamed during the 20 lashes.

L.G.B.T. people in Jamaica live in fear, despite a fresh, hopeful push by some Jamaicans to repeal a law that permits long prison sentences for sodomy. Mobs there have chased people believed to be gay, and last year a transgendered teen was reportedly killed — stabbed, shot and run over with a car — in a hate crime.

Strains of Russia’s florid bigotry can be found in its neighbors, too: Lithuania, Latvia, Moldova, Ukraine. Ty Cobb, the director of global engagement for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, which is about to publish a world report, noted that many traditionalists in these countries cast L.G.B.T. people as the emblems and agents of a decadent Western culture.

Human Rights Watch recently examined Kyrgyzstan and found that while the country doesn’t criminalize same-sex activity, the police there detain, taunt and shame gay men routinely and with impunity.

The group also investigated Cameroon, where it says a gay rights activist was killed last summer after being tortured with a hot iron. Over the last three years, according to the group, at least 28 people in Cameroon have been prosecuted for homosexual conduct.

Two men were hauled in for questioning because lubricant and condoms had been found in their house. Another two men aroused suspicion because of their feminine dress and beverage choice. They drank Baileys Irish Cream.

Nkom was involved in their case, as she was with Roger, whose story she and another of his lawyers, Michel Togue, fleshed out for me.

In prison, where he spent more than a year, he was apparently roughed up. Raped, too. He got sick, and while news reports mentioned a hernia, Nkom told me that he also had testicular cancer. He didn’t get proper treatment, she said, not even after his release, partly because he went into hiding, terrified of being put away again.

His relatives didn’t intervene in his medical care. They spurned him, she said, contributing to the isolation that hastened his deterioration.

Back before the text message, back before the dread label of homosexual was hung on him, Roger had confidence. He had respect. He studied philosophy at a local university, with an eye on a teaching career.

“He was the hope of the family,” Nkom told me. “He was the one who had a future.”

Then he shared what was in his heart. And that future was gone.


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