Archive for the ‘Bruni’ Category

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.

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

February 2, 2014

The Pasty Little Putz addresses “The G.O.P.’s Immigration Delusion” and babbles that this time, the base is right to just say no to reform.  “Mancuroc” from Rochester, NY sums it up thusly:  “Well, at least this time Douthat shows his true colors. His pole star is not what might be best for his country but what would not to be worst for his party.”  MoDo has a question in “The Gospel According to Paul:  When it comes to fooling around with an intern in the Oval Office, is there a political statute of limitations?  It gives her a chance to foam at the mouth about the Clintons.  The Moustache of Wisdom, in “A Wonderful Country,” explains why the success of John Kerry’s peace mission is so important.  Mr. Kristof tells us “Dylan Farrow’s Story” and says now that Hollywood has told the story of Woody Allen’s long career in film, Dylan Farrow, his adopted daughter, is ready to have her say.  Mr. Bruni ponders “Maturity’s Victories” and says in Peyton Manning’s path to the Super Bowl, you see the sweet side of Father Time.  Here’s The Putz:

The debate over immigration reform, rekindled last week by House Republican leaders, bears a superficial resemblance to last fall’s debate over the government shutdown.

Again, you have establishment Republicans transparently eager to cut a deal with the White House and a populist wing that doesn’t want to let them do it. Again, you have Republican business groups and donors wringing their hands over the intransigence of the base, while talk-radio hosts and right-wing bloggers warn against an imminent inside-the-Beltway sellout. Again, you have a bill that could pass the House tomorrow — but only if John Boehner was willing to live with having mostly Democrats voting for it.

Except there’s one big difference: This time, the populists are right.

They’re right about the policy, which remains a mess in every new compromise that’s floated — offering “solutions” that are unlikely to be permanent, enforcement provisions that probably won’t take effect, and favoring special interests, right and left, over the interests of the citizenry at large.

A reasonable compromise, for instance, would condition amnesty for illegal immigrants on substantial new enforcement measures, to ensure that this mass legalization would be the last. But the bills under discussion almost always offer some form of legal status before enforcement takes effect, which promises a replay of the Reagan-era amnesty’s failure to ever deliver the limits on future immigration that it promised.

A reasonable immigration compromise would also privilege high-skilled immigration over low-skilled immigration, given the unemployment crisis among low-skilled native workers and the larger social crisis that threatens to slow assimilation and upward mobility alike. But the House leadership seems to favor an approach that would create a permanent noncitizen class of low-wage workers and expand guest-worker programs — a recipe for looser labor markets, continued wage stagnation and fewer jobs for the existing unemployed.

So immigration policy is problematic on the merits — and then it’s politically problematic for Republicans as well. Immigration ranks 16th on the public’s list of priorities, according to the latest Pew numbers, so it’s difficult to see how making this the signature example of a new, solutions-oriented G.O.P. is going to help the party in the near term. Whereas it’s much easier to see how it helps the Democrats: if a bill passes, it will do so with heavy Democratic support, hand President Obama a policy victory at a time when he looks like a lame duck, and demoralize the right along the way.

Admittedly, a big push for immigration reform would not be as straightforwardly idiotic as shutting down the government without clear goals or plausible demands. But it would probably have some of the same political effects: it would divide the G.O.P., perplex the public, and let the White House reap immediate political benefits no matter how the push turned out.

So why are Republican leaders flirting with the idea? In part for principled reasons — libertarianism, pro-business sentiment and “compassionate conservative” impulses all align to make comprehensive reform seem like an obvious good to many figures in the party, and to obscure its downsides and its risks.

But it’s also hard for G.O.P. elites to let go of the idea that there’s a simple, one-fell-swoop solution to their electoral difficulties. The entire post-2012 immigration reform push was born out of this hope — that a single policy shift could deliver the Hispanic vote, save the party from its demographic crisis, and (perhaps most important) make other reforms and innovations unnecessary.

This conceit was always a fond delusion, not least because most Hispanics are not single-issue voters, and their leftward tilt has always been related to broader socioeconomic concerns. So with them, as with most Americans, the problem for Republicans in 2008 and 2012 was much bigger than the immigration issue: it was a platform designed for the challenges of 1980, and rhetoric that seemed to write off half the country as layabouts and moochers. And any solution for the party, in 2016 and beyond, would have to offer much more than the same old Reagan-era script with an amnesty stapled at the bottom.

Fortunately for the Republican future, we’re finally beginning to see the right’s politicians reckon with this reality, and throw themselves into the real work of reform. Indeed, this is happening more quickly than I once expected: in just the last week alone, recent Republican forays on tax reform, poverty and prisons have been joined by a plausible health care alternative and baby steps toward a proposal to help the long-term uninsured.

But that, too, is part of what makes the leadership’s immigration fixation so perverse. For the first time since the Bush presidency, high-profile Republicans are showing an interest in policy ideas that are fresh, politically savvy and well suited to the current economic malaise. Which makes it exactly the wrong time for the party to throw itself into a furious debate over an idea that is none of the above.

Next up we have MoDo, being Rand Paul’s stenographer:

So how do you make Monica haunt Hillary’s dreams?

That’s what Republicans have been gnawing on, and that’s what not-so-bland Rand Paul was cagey enough to figure out.

Fresh from taunting rival Chris Christie as “the king of bacon,” and declaring their feud “water under the bridge,” Paul turned his slingshot at a bigger target, the Big Dog himself, the gallivanting global statesman who is more popular than he has ever been, the master politician who has had to sell President Obama to America only a few years after he so vituperatively tried to turn off America on the whippersnapper and usurper.

With the passage of time and a cascade of fawning magazine covers, Bill Clinton’s image has evolved, leaving the repellent sexual scandals a pentimento in a new, more magnetic portrait.

The 51-year-old Kentucky ophthalmologist-turned-senator has only been in Congress for three years. But Paul took dead aim at the former president, arguing that Bill’s legacy is brutified by Monica, when Bill wants his legacy to be ratified by Hillary.

Unruffled by the kerfuffle, Paul reiterated to me that he disdains the Democratic “hypocrisy within the party that wants to blame Republicans for somehow not liking women, that somehow we’re this party that has some kind of war going on, and they have as a leader and one of the most prominent fund-raising people in their party still to this very day, a person who seems in some ways to have his own private war on women.”

Paul aimed an asteroid at Planet Hillary on “Meet the Press” last Sunday.

David Gregory asked Paul about the comment of his wife, Kelley, in a Jason Horowitz profile of the senator in Vogue, that Bill Clinton should not be First Spouse, given his “predatory” behavior with Monica Lewinsky.

Paul backed up his wife, telling Gregory that there “is no excuse” for preying on a young intern and that it should affect history’s view of the ex-president. While he said it was “not Hillary’s fault,” he added that with the Clintons, “sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other.”

On Fox News, after the State of the Union, Paul injected the word “violence” into the political bloodstream, noting that the Democratic “standard-bearer seems to be a guy that was committing the workplace kind of violence that we should all be opposed to.”

Senator Claire McCaskill told Andrea Mitchell that she found Paul’s comments “infuriating,” and that he was just “grasping,” trying to show he could be tough in a bid to win the presidential nomination.

But back when McCaskill, now on Team Clinton, was trying to crush Team Clinton and get Barack Obama elected, she said this about Bill: “He’s been a great leader, but I don’t want my daughter near him.”

Paul brought that up with me, suggesting that if McCaskill were being honest and not partisan, she would still be worried about having her daughter around Bill and that maybe there’s a double standard for the famous.

“In my small town, we would disassociate, we would in some ways socially shun somebody that had an inappropriate affair with someone’s daughter or with a babysitter or something like that,” he said, adding: “There’s no reason why we should give up on having some sort of belief in social standards” and on what’s “appropriate, inappropriate, right, wrong.”

Asked about McCaskill’s assertion that he doesn’t “get” that women want birth control, Paul replied “I’ve never met a Republican who was against birth control or who thought that somehow we would try to prevent women from having birth control.”


Democrats, who were more upset that Hillary Clinton admitted she hadn’t driven a car since 1996 and seemed way out of touch, brushed off Paul with a Clintonian dismissal: That’s old. The chorus was unanimous: Bill Clinton is a Lothario? Really? The Republicans will never regain the White House if they’re going to fight the wars of the ’90s.

Every time Republicans overreached and thought they had killed Clinton Inc., he bounced back and they took a whack. As Bill told Ken Gormley, the author of “The Death of American Virtue,” “I felt they were Wile E. Coyote in the pack, and I was the Road Runner.”

Even the conservative Dorothy Rabinowitz in The Wall Street Journal took Paul to task, noting that while the former president’s choice to accept Monica’s advances was “an outrage and a national embarrassment,” it was not “a boss preying on an innocent.”

Privately, veterans of Hillaryworld admired Paul’s savvy appeal to the base. As one noted dryly, “When you’re playing with the hard-core base, there’s no statute of limitations on crazy fooling around with an intern in the Oval Office.”

I agree that Paul’s aim was true. He distracted from the Republicans’ abysmal war on women by pointing at an abysmal moment in feminist history, when feminists betrayed their principles to defend a president who had behaved in a regressive way with women because he had progressive policies on women.

Instead of owning up, Bill Clinton forced his humiliated wife, a feminist icon, and women in his cabinet — Madeleine Albright and Donna Shalala — into the dreadful position of defending him when he was lying about his conduct.

Seven years after the feminists tried to bring down a Supreme Court nominee for sexual harassment — but really for his conservative stances — they went into contortions to defend Clinton. Gloria Steinem wrote a Times Op-Ed titled “Why Feminists Support Clinton” that somehow boiled down to “yes means yes.”

Paul told me that he thinks that Hillary is “as much a victim as anybody” in the Monica affair. It is true that Hillary was a victim — a sympathetic role that won her support and a glamorous Vogue cover and laid the foundation for her Senate run. Hillary’s popularity rises whenever she is brushed back by men, whether it’s her own husband or Rick Lazio in the Senate debate or Barack Obama in his “You’re likable enough, Hillary” debate faux pas.

Asked if he could be helping Hillary by shaming her, Paul chuckled and said, “This isn’t something we considered to be a strategy or something.”

It certainly helps him, showing he can take on the Clintons and giving him culture war cred to balance out his libertarian positions.

It is not so simple to cast Hillary as a victim; she was also part of the damage-control team to vouch for her husband and undermine his mistress. White House aides and other Democrats spread the word that Monica was a troubled young woman with stalker tendencies. Sidney Blumenthal, a senior White House adviser, later testified that Hillary told him that “she was distressed that the president was being attacked, in her view, for political motives, for his ministry of a troubled person.”

Monica had to be sacrificed for the greater good of the Clintons and feminist ambitions. Hillary was furious at Bill — stories were leaked that he was sleeping on the couch — but she also had to protect her political investment. If he collapsed, she was done. And she was going up — to the Senate and eventually the Oval Office.

Next up we have The Moustache of Wisdom, writing from Tel Aviv:

One of the most popular shows on Israeli TV is called “Eretz Nehederet” or “A Wonderful Country.” It’s a comedy show that lives to make fun of Israeli politicians and the absurdities of life here. It recently opened its 2014 season with a cartoon graphic of a beautiful, multicolored, flower-filled garden with a butterfly fluttering across the screen. Then, suddenly, a concrete wall rises up all around the garden, which was an image the producers used last year. But this season not only does the wall emerge but a glass dome rises out of the wall and seals off this Garden of Eden from above as well.

This scene is noteworthy for a couple of reasons: I’ve long believed that the Israeli-Arab conflict is to the wider global war of civilizations what Off Broadway is to Broadway. It is the small laboratory where trends get tested out first, or are perfected, and then go global — from airline hijacking to suicide bombing to the attempt, through force and rebuilding, to create a negotiating partner out of a traditional foe (Israel in Lebanon 1982 and with the Palestinians in the Oslo process; America in Iraq and Afghanistan).

So it is useful to ask: What’s playing Off Broadway now? What do you see? You see Israel, as in the “Eretz Nehederet” skit, literally trying to wall itself off from the multiplying threats around it and contending with all the ethical dilemmas that entails. And you see a wider region that is no longer divided along pro-U.S. and pro-Soviet lines, socialist or capitalist, secular or religious. You see instead a region increasingly divided between “the world of order” and “the world of disorder.”

What Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kurdistan, Turkey, the Gulf states and even to a lesser degree the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank all have in common is that they are islands of order, where at least there is someone to answer the phone, it doesn’t come off the wall when they do and there is a minimum of human security.

That is less and less true today in Syria, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq, not to mention nearby Somalia, Eritrea and northern and southern Sudan.

Guess how many African migrants, mostly from South Sudan, Eritrea and Uganda, have entered Israel in recent years and are here illegally: 54,000! Stroll around the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, where many have found shelter, and you’ll see African men on cellphones on every street. They sailed, walked or drove to Israel’s borders and either slipped in on their own or were smuggled in by Bedouins across Egypt’s Sinai Desert. That’s why the latest fence Israel has built is along the Israel-Sinai frontier. The Sinai is so out of control that last week Islamist militants shot down an Egyptian military helicopter there with a surface-to-air missile believed to have been smuggled in from Libya after Muammar el-Qaddafi’s arsenals were broken into during his overthrow.

I chatted with a Christian Eritrean — “Mark,” age 26 — who opened a makeshift clothing and Internet shop near the bus station. Sitting under a Bob Marley poster, he told me that he had fled from Eritrea’s brutal government to Ethiopia, then to Sudan, then to Libya, tried to sail to Italy but got turned back and eventually walked to Israel. He’s now living here illegally with his father, he said, because Israel has the “most security.”

I wonder if the torrid pace of technological change, the rising education demands for running a successful economy, the superempowerment of individuals to organize as militants or come together against corrupt governments and environmental and population stresses aren’t putting unbearable pressure on fragile states — particularly multisectarian and multitribal ones — and literally blowing them apart. And there is no Soviet Union or America to hold them together as in the Cold War.

The PowerPoint maps that Israeli military briefers use for Sinai, Gaza, Lebanon and Syria today consist of multicolored circles, and inside each are clusters of different armed groups. Israel is like a Petri dish of the new world, with nonstate actors, armed with rockets, dressed as civilians and nested among civilians on four out of its five borders: Sinai, Gaza, Lebanon and Syria.

I understand why all this makes even some moderate Israeli military leaders more wary about any West Bank withdrawal. But the status quo is not neutral. Israel needs to do all it can to avoid turning itself into a kind of forced binational state — with a hostile minority in its belly — by permanently holding onto the West Bank and its 2.5 million Palestinians. That’s exactly the kind of states blowing up in the world of disorder. And it’s why the success of John Kerry’s peace mission is so important for Israelis, and Palestinians.

You don’t want to be in these wars. This is not your grandfather’s battlefield. When the enemy is nested in homes and apartments and no one wears a uniform but everyone has a cellphone camera, you have a real strategic and moral challenge — as the U.S. has discovered with its own drone wars. It’s hard to defeat this enemy without killing a lot of civilians. It’s no accident that every Israeli brigade now has a legal adviser.

This is what’s playing Off Broadway. Take note. It may be coming to a theater near you.

And now we get to Mr. Kristof:

When Woody Allen received a Golden Globe award for lifetime achievement a few weeks ago, there was a lively debate about whether it was appropriate to honor a man who is an artistic giant but also was accused years ago of child molestation.

Allen’s defenders correctly note that he denies the allegations, has never been convicted and should be presumed innocent. People weighed in on all sides, but one person who hasn’t been heard out is Dylan Farrow, 28, the writer and artist whom Allen was accused of molesting.

Dylan, Allen’s adopted daughter who is now married and living in Florida under a different name, tells me that she has been traumatized for more than two decades by what took place; last year, she was belatedly diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She says that when she heard of the Golden Globe award being given to Allen she curled up in a ball on her bed, crying hysterically.

With everyone else commenting, she decided to weigh in as well. (Full disclosure: I am a friend of her mother, Mia, and brother Ronan, and that’s how Dylan got in touch with me.) She has written a letter that I’m posting in full on my blog, I reached out to Allen several days ago, and he declined to comment on the record.

Dylan writes:

That he got away with what he did to me haunted me as I grew up. I was stricken with guilt that I had allowed him to be near other little girls. I was terrified of being touched by men. I developed an eating disorder. I began cutting myself.

That torment was made worse by Hollywood. All but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye. Most found it easier to accept the ambiguity, to say, “who can say what happened,” to pretend that nothing was wrong. Actors praised him at awards shows. Networks put him on TV. Critics put him in magazines. Each time I saw my abuser’s face — on a poster, on a T-shirt, on television — I could only hide my panic until I found a place to be alone and fall apart.

A firestorm erupted in 1992 over allegations described as “inappropriate touching” — in fact, what Dylan recounts is far worse, a sexual assault. She was 7 years old.

There were charges and countercharges. A panel of psychiatrists sided with Allen, a judge more with Dylan and her mother. A Connecticut prosecutor said that there was enough evidence for a criminal case against Allen but that he was dropping criminal proceedings to spare Dylan.

Look, none of us can be certain what happened. The standard to send someone to prison is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but shouldn’t the standard to honor someone be that they are unimpeachably, well, honorable?

Yet the Golden Globes sided with Allen, in effect accusing Dylan either of lying or of not mattering. That’s the message that celebrities in film, music and sports too often send to abuse victims.

“I know it’s ‘he said, she said,’ ” Dylan told me. “But, to me, it’s black and white, because I was there.”

I asked her why she’s speaking out now. She said she wants to set the record straight and give courage to victims: “I was thinking, if I don’t speak out, I’ll regret it on my death bed.”

These are extremely tough issues, and certainty isn’t available. But hundreds of thousands of boys and girls are abused each year, and they deserve support and sensitivity. When evidence is ambiguous, do we really need to leap to our feet and lionize an alleged molester?

But I want to leave you with a sense of Dylan’s resolve. She declares:

This time, I refuse to fall apart. For so long, Woody Allen’s acceptance silenced me. It felt like a personal rebuke, like the awards and accolades were a way to tell me to shut up and go away. But the survivors of sexual abuse who have reached out to me — to support me and to share their fears of coming forward, of being called a liar, of being told their memories aren’t their memories — have given me a reason to not be silent, if only so others know that they don’t have to be silent either.

Today, I consider myself lucky. I am happily married. I have the support of my amazing brothers and sisters. I have a mother who found within herself a well of fortitude that saved us from the chaos a predator brought into our home.

But others are still scared, vulnerable, and struggling for the courage to tell the truth. The message that Hollywood sends matters for them.

That’s something for all of us, even those who aren’t stars, to reflect on.

Last last up to bat we have Mr. Bruni:

Bear in mind that what you’re about to read comes from someone whose creaky knees protest any run longer than three miles, whose achy left shoulder just got its first cortisone shot and whose haircuts are more ceremonial than functional, given that nature is doing a barber’s work. I have a vested interest in coming up with an argument that older is somehow better.

But I also have the Super Bowl on my side, because what you’ll be watching on Sunday is more than the biggest football game of the year. It’s an affirmation of aging. It’s proof that a youthful stride matters less than a seasoned mind, and that what happens on the far side of our physical peaks isn’t a steady decline but a sequence of trade-offs. Our joints may not be as sturdy as they once were. We have plenty else that’s stronger than ever.

The Denver Broncos are favored (just slightly) over the Seattle Seahawks, and for one principal reason: Peyton Manning. He’s finishing up the best season of his career, maybe of any quarterback’s. For the 16 games leading up to the playoffs, he set National Football League records for passing yards and for touchdowns thrown. And he did this after four neck surgeries, following a period when nerve damage had wrecked his right arm. He did this at 37, which is the cusp of senescence in his merciless sport.

Certainly, other quarterbacks have flourished in their late 30s. In fact a few of them, including John Elway, were also Broncos, as Time magazine noted in a recent article titled “Peyton Manning’s Elder Power.” But what’s extraordinary about Manning — and what gives his golden season a resonance beyond the gridiron — is the way he’s flourished, his careful deployment of certain advantages to compensate for other disadvantages. It’s a tortoise-and-hare story, sort of, with a similar moral: Flashiness doesn’t automatically win the day. Neither does fleetness. But smarts, patience, plotting? These are paramount, and they’re less pronounced in youth than in the rickety, wobbly expanse beyond it.

Rickety, wobbly — yes, I’m thinking of Manning’s running style. While he was never much of a scrambler, he’s especially lead-footed these days. In the Time article, David Von Drehle wrote that Manning’s one short touchdown run this season “made him look like a man with a bum hip chasing a taxi in wingtips.” Von Drehle was being generous. Manning chased that taxi in Crocs.

All of his limbs have limitations they didn’t used to. Even as Sports Illustrated named him its athlete of 2013, the magazine observed that the “laser rocket arm” of his 20s was, at this point, “more like a cap gun.” Ouch. I watched every Broncos telecast — they’re my team, and I relish any reason to grow roots in the couch — and he threw a great many passes that floated and fizzled and swayed clumsily, like stoned egrets, toward the receivers they were meant for.

But they got there. And other passes, more of them, were real beauties, with both pinpoint accuracy and plenty of zip.

Besides, he has tools now that have nothing to do with brawn, tools forged in time served.

He has the kind of poise that maturity typically midwifes. He’s unflappable. When something goes wrong, be it his fault or a teammate’s, he’ll grimace only fleetingly, shrug just slightly and press on. Panic, he understands, is a waste of precious energy, a pivot into rushed, stupid mistakes. With a bit of age has come a better grip on the fact that a game, like a life, is long. Stay calm. Hang in. Wait for the inevitable break. Trust your training.

And gather information. The Manning of the moment is known less for his power, which is diminished, than for his skills as a tactician, which are the fruits of having survived so many different situations and studied so many possible scenarios. He can step to the line of scrimmage, quickly diagnose the defense’s vulnerabilities and instantly change the play that he was about to call, using a frenzy of code words and gesticulations that leave opponents scratching their heads, or rather helmets. Ten years ago, even five years ago, he was nowhere near as deft at this.

It’s no accident that we elect more older than younger people to the highest political offices, and it’s not simply because they’ve paid dues or been able to establish the necessary donor networks (though the latter, sadly, is indeed a factor). We understand that there’s a kind of judgment that comes only with an accretion of years, and we hope — often vainly — that it’s manifest in these leaders.

It’s no accident that Robert Redford, 77, just gave the performance of his career, in “All Is Lost,” and that Bruce Dern, also 77, did likewise, in “Nebraska.” The Oscar for Best Actor is likely to go to Matthew McConaughey, for “Dallas Buyers Club,” who’s doing work in his 40s — he’s now 44 — that he couldn’t have touched in his hunky 20s.

And it’s no accident that many of us, while remembering and sometimes yearning for the electricity of first loves and the metabolism of our salad days, don’t really want to turn back the clock. We know that for everything that’s been taken from us, something else has been given. We don’t move as nimbly as we did. But we manage our emotions with greater dexterity. Our energy may be diminished. Our use of it is more prudent. We’re short on flat-out exuberance. We’re long on perspective.

Back in college I took a psychology course that I recall absolutely nothing about, except for the professor’s favorite maxim. Life, he repeatedly said, is about learning to deal with loss. For decades afterward, as my mother died and relationships soured and I gave up on my grandest dreams, I trusted him on the profundity of this observation, which he could just as easily have worded another way: Aging stinks.

But he was wrong, or, at best, only half right. Life is about learning to look past what’s lost to what’s found in the process, and that’s Manning’s season in a nutshell. To watch him now isn’t merely to see new gifts on display, new tricks picked up. It’s to behold, in his eyes and smile, an amplified joy in the game he’s playing, an outsize gratitude for his part in it.

He’ll step onto the field at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., not just as one of the best quarterbacks in the history of football. He’ll step onto the field, with his thinning hair and awkward gait, as a poster boy for the march of time.

Brooks, Cohen, Nocera and Bruni

January 28, 2014

FSM spare us, but Bobo has a spiritual question in “Alone, Yet Not Alone:”  How does the inner experience of faith differ from popular perceptions of religion?  In “The Egyptian Disaster” Mr. Cohen howls that Egypt is a major strategic failure for the United States and an illustration of America’s disengagement.  He bitches up a storm, but has nothing to say about what the United States should have done, or why it’s our job.  Mr. Nocera, in “From Your Friends at the N.R.A.,” shows us that membership has its perks.  In “Emilio’s Great Race” Mr. Bruni says in Chapel Hill, a student government race is partly about the sense, generosity and meaning of America.  Here’s Bobo:

There is a strong vein of hostility against orthodox religious believers in America today, especially among the young. When secular or mostly secular people are asked by researchers to give their impression of the devoutly faithful, whether Jewish, Christian or other, the words that come up commonly include “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” “old-fashioned” and “out of touch.”

It’s not surprising. There is a yawning gap between the way many believers experience faith and the way that faith is presented to the world.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel described one experience of faith in his book “God in Search of Man”: “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement…get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal. …To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

And yet Heschel understood that the faith expressed by many, even many who are inwardly conflicted, is often dull, oppressive and insipid — a religiosity in which “faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion.”

There must be something legalistic in the human makeup, because cold, rigid, unambiguous, unparadoxical belief is common, especially considering how fervently the Scriptures oppose it.

And yet there is a silent majority who experience a faith that is attractively marked by combinations of fervor and doubt, clarity and confusion, empathy and moral demand.

For example, Audrey Assad is a Catholic songwriter with a crystalline voice and a sober intensity to her stage presence. (You can see her perform her song “I Shall Not Want” on YouTube.) She writes the sort of emotionally drenched music that helps people who are in crisis. A surprising number of women tell her they listened to her music while in labor.

She had an idyllic childhood in a Protestant sect prone to black-or-white dichotomies. But when she was in her 20s, life’s tragedies and complexities inevitably mounted, and she experienced a gradual erosion of certainty.

She began reading her way through the books on the Barnes & Noble Great Books shelf, trying to cover the ones she missed by not going to college. She loved George Eliot’s “Daniel Deronda” and was taken by Tolstoy. “He didn’t have an easy time encountering himself,” she says, sympathetically. “I was reading my way from darkness into paradox.”

She also began reading theology. She’d never read anything written before 1835. She went back to Augustine (whose phrases show up in her lyrics) and the early church fathers. Denominationally, she went backward in time. She became Baptist, then Presbyterian, then Catholic: “I was ready to be an atheist. I was going to be a Catholic or an atheist. “

She came to feel the legacy of millions of people who had struggled with the same feelings for thousands of years. “I still have routine brushes with agnosticism,” she says. “I still brush against the feeling that I don’t believe any of this, but the church always brings me back. …I don’t think Jesus wants to brush away the paradoxes and mysteries.”

Her lyrics dwell in the parts of Christianity she doesn’t understand. “I don’t want people to think I’ve had an easy time.” She still fights the tendency to go to extremes. “If I’d have been an atheist I’d have been the most obnoxious, Dawkins-loving atheist. I wouldn’t have been like Christopher Hitchens.”

Her life, like all lives, is unexpected, complex and unique. Her music provides a clearer outward display of how many inwardly experience God.

If you are a secular person curious about how believers experience their faith, you might start with Augustine’s famous passage “What do I love when I love my God,” and especially the way his experience is in the world but then mysteriously surpasses the world:

“It is not physical beauty nor temporal glory nor the brightness of light dear to earthly eyes, nor the sweet melodies of all kinds of songs, nor the gentle odor of flowers, and ointments and perfumes, nor manna or honey, nor limbs welcoming the embraces of the flesh; it is not these I love when I love my God. Yet there is a light I love, and a food, and a kind of embrace when I love my God — a light, voice, odor, food, embrace of my innerness, where my soul is floodlit by light which space cannot contain, where there is sound that time cannot seize, where there is a perfume which no breeze disperses, where there is a taste for food no amount of eating can lessen, and where there is a bond of union that no satiety can part. That is what I love when I love my God.”

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

In Davos, Secretary of State John Kerry talked for a long time about Iran. He talked for a long time about Syria. He talked for a very long time about Israel-Palestine. And he had nothing to say about Egypt.

This was a glaring omission. Egypt, home to about a quarter of all Arabs and the fulcrum of the Arab Spring, is in a disastrous state. Tahrir Square, emblem of youthful hope and anti-dictatorial change three years ago, is home now to Egyptians baying for a military hero with the trappings of a new Pharaoh to trample on the “terrorists” of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Yet, in a speech devoted to rebutting what he called “this disengagement myth” — the notion that a war-weary United States is retreating from the Middle East — Kerry was silent on a nation that is a United States ally, the recipient of about $1.3 billion a year in military aid (some suspended), and the symbol today of the trashing of American hopes for a more inclusive, tolerant and democratic order in the Middle East.

The silence was telling. The Obama administration has been all over the place on Egypt, sticking briefly with Hosni Mubarak, then siding with his ouster, then working hard to establish productive relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and its democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, then backing the military coup that removed Morsi six months ago (without calling it a coup) and finally arguing, in the words of Kerry last August, that the military headed by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi was “restoring democracy.”

This “restoration” has in fact involved a fierce crackdown on the Brotherhood, named a terrorist organization on Dec. 25, and on anyone not bowing to Sisi, whose brutal new order has left well over 1,000 people dead. It has involved the rapid adoption of a Constitution drafted by a 50-member committee including only two representatives of Islamist parties, so providing a mirror image of the problems with Morsi’s Islamist-dominated drafting process.

The Constitution won the approval this month of 98.1 percent of voters, a back-to-the-future number recalling Saddam Hussein’s “elections.” In fact this was 98.1 percent of the mere 38.6 percent of Egyptians who voted: Most Egyptians are either cowed in fear (the Brotherhood) or despairing (the Twitter-generation youth who ignited the Tahrir revolution) or reduced to apathy: So much for inclusiveness.

Egypt is the most vivid illustration of the American disengagement Kerry sought to rebut. Saudi and Emirati billions deployed behind Sisi have been more telling than America’s paltry billion, or its training of Egyptian officers, or its pious expressions of backing for an Egypt offering equal rights to all citizens regardless of their gender, faith, ethnicity or political affiliation. America has watched and wavered as the most important Arab society lost its revolution to the familiar, arid juxtaposition of the military and Islamists (all of them now “terrorists” to the baying pro-Sisi crowd.)

This Egyptian debacle is a significant strategic failure for the United States, and of course, like red lines that proved not to be so red in Syria, it has sent a message of American retreat. It seems inevitable that Sisi will now run for president and win with some back-to-the-future number. If he does not run whoever does will be no more than his puppet.

David Kirkpatrick, my colleague in Cairo, said it all in this brilliant, depressing lead: “Thousands of Egyptians celebrated the third anniversary of their revolt against autocracy on Saturday by holding a rally for the military leader who ousted the country’s first democratically elected president.”

Mohamed Soltan, a 26-year-old American graduate of Ohio State University whose Egyptian father belongs to the Brotherhood and who was detained in Cairo in August, is one victim of that military leader. He wrote a devastating letter to President Obama, recently made public by his family. Soltan sits in a “packed underground cell,” being operated on for gunshot wounds without anesthetic by a doctor who is a cellmate wielding pliers, wondering if “today is going to be the day Americanness counts” and “the Egyptian authorities will have no choice but to treat me like a human being.”

Soltan is still waiting. As are the many Egyptian people who wanted to move toward a more open society, not back to one of countless political prisoners.

I was in Cairo in early January. Out at the Great Pyramid in Giza there was not one Western tourist. I went for a camel ride out of pity for the many camel owners doing zero business. The tourism industry, once an economic mainstay, is in tatters. It reflects the abject state of a great nation.

There is plenty of blame to go around — for Obama, for the hapless Morsi, for the paranoid power-grabbing Muslim Brotherhood, for the controlling military. But above all I blame the squabbling Egyptian liberals who fought for Mubarak’s ouster but did not give democracy a chance.

Next up we get to Mr. Cohen:

The following are verbatim excerpts from emails sent by the National Rifle Association. SEPT. 12, 2013 Subject: Obama wants to ban guns, but N.R.A. is giving guns away!

Announcing N.R.A.’s “BANNED GUNS RAFFLE.” Your chance to win 12 guns that Obama, Biden, Feinstein and Bloomberg want to Ban! 12 great guns — 12 chances to win! (Hurry — raffle ends October 21, 2013.)

SEPT. 12 Subject: N.R.A. Hearing Benefits September Newsletter.

N.R.A. Hearing Benefits offers its members free annual hearing screenings and incredible hearing aid discounts on the latest hearing technology.

SEPT. 25 Subject: NEW VIDEOS: Defensive Shooting Standards Drill, Fundamentals of Home Defense, and More.

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SEPT. 26 Subject: Obama Signs U.N. Gun Ban Treaty

You know what this means. Now Obama and the U.N. are one BIG step closer to wiping out our Second Amendment freedom, our national sovereignty, and our American rule of law…..once and for all. Only you and I can stop Obama and the U.N., but we have to act NOW.

OCT. 1 Subject: Your N.R.A. Member Benefit

Dear N.R.A. member: N.R.A. thinks the best way to shop for Life Insurance is through Life Insurance Central®. That’s because as an N.R.A. Member, Life Insurance Central® helps you, and your family continue to live as they do now, should a fatal accident occur. Get a NO-COST FAST COMPARISON QUOTE!

OCT. 2 Subject: Save 10% on N.R.A. Christmas Cards!

Your purchase makes a difference. National Rifle Association receives a portion of all product sales.

OCT. 29 Subject: He thinks he can buy your freedom

New York City billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg is on an all-out mission to buy the U.S. Congress so that Barack Obama can ban your guns. And if you and I don’t take immediate action to stop him, he’ll get away with it. That’s why I’m asking you to sign this Voter Pledge the moment you get the chance. … It is our job to make Bloomberg and his money TOXIC to every candidate running for office… and it all starts with your signed Voter Pledge TODAY

DEC. 12 Subject: Congrats N.R.A. Member: You’ve been selected to get 72% off PDN [Personal Defense Network] Premium Membership

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JAN. 16, 2014 Subject: A horrifying photo

We Have To Stop This NOW. The scene above isn’t from a foreign country. It’s happening right here in America. Law-abiding citizens in Connecticut are being forced to line up and register their firearms with the government. How long do you think it will be before anti-gun politicians turn these REGISTERED firearms into BANNED and CONFISCATED firearms? If this can happen anywhere in America, it can happen EVERYWHERE.

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Executive Vice President, N.R.A.

Last up we have Mr. Bruni:

The campaign for student body president at the University of North Carolina here has just begun, and there’s nothing unusual in the number of candidates — five — or the fact that two are Morehead-Cain scholars, an elite designation.

But there’s a wrinkle that’s certain to generate discussion, especially in a state whose politics have taken a profoundly rightward turn. One of the candidates is an undocumented immigrant who readily identifies himself that way. In fact he’s at or near the head of the pack.

His name is Emilio Vicente. He’s a junior, 22, and a minority three times over: Latino, undocumented and gay. He came to the United States from Guatemala at 6, his mother leading him under barbed wire and into Arizona, as he recalls it. (He remembers the screech of a woman with them whose hair got caught.) And he flourished here, his grades earning him the private scholarship he needed for Chapel Hill, where he’s on this committee, that board, a one-man whirlwind of engagement.

I hung out with him on Sunday, including at a meeting of his campaign team. They took stock of their efforts to meet the Tuesday deadline for 1,250 petition signatures. Emilio was already above 2,000. The election is Feb. 11, with a runoff, if needed, a week later.

His victory would be a milestone, not just locally but perhaps nationally, and it would be a chance, he told me, “to change the narrative of what it means to be undocumented.” It would be a vindication, too, and that’s clear from his campaign site. Under the heading “Inspiration,” it says, “My parents for their sacrifices.”

His dad arrived here illegally in 1992. He and his mom followed in 1997, traveling through Mexico by rail, in a cargo car. “I’m pretty sure it was a cattle train, because I could smell the manure,” he said. From Arizona they made their way to Siler City, N.C., where his father plucked chickens in a big poultry plant. His mother got a job there, too.

“They would come home from work and show me their hands — blistered, pruned,” Emilio remembered. “And they said, ‘You don’t want this.’ ” He buckled down to schoolwork, though it was hard, partly because his parents had little education and almost no English. And he stayed out of trouble, careful not to draw any attention to his family.

Things got tougher still. His father, who had taken a new job in a lumber plant, was paralyzed in an accident there. Homebound, dependent, he returned to relatives in Guatemala, Emilio’s mother beside him. The choice belonged to Emilio, then 15: join them or stay in Siler City with an older brother who had managed to get to America.

It was our national anthem Emilio could sing, our president whose name he knew. He thought about the future and about his parents’ hands. He stayed.

He hasn’t seen his parents in seven years, because he can’t re-enter the country if he leaves. He has no papers, no legal status. If the government didn’t typically turn a blind eye to young people like him, he’d be at risk of deportation, but he doesn’t really fear it, especially since President Obama in 2012 created renewable two-year reprieves for productive young immigrants without criminal records, enabling them, for example, to be legally employed. Emilio is applying for one.

But a change in government could end that program. It doesn’t include any durable peace of mind, not the kind offered by the long-stalled Dream Act, which creates a path to citizenship for many immigrants who were tugged here by their parents, are blameless for their illegal crossings, got educations in America, and are eager to lend their skills to this country.

Federal and state laws are a welter of contradictions. As an undocumented immigrant, Emilio can attend Chapel Hill, but must be considered a foreigner and pay out-of-state tuition. He’s ineligible for state or federal aid. Lucky for him, his private scholarship covers the full cost. His many campus involvements, he said, are his way of saying thank you and giving back.

Republicans in Washington, who have been an obstacle to immigration reform, are about to unveil some new proposals, which reportedly will deal with the perverse limbos of young immigrants.

I sure hope so, because if we, as a country, aren’t prepared to open our arms and workplaces to strivers like Emilio, who could so easily have sunk into self-pity and had to summon a grace and grit that many of us never manage, then we’re not just callous. We’re self-defeating. We’re stupid.

But while Congress dithers about his degree of welcome in America, students here in Chapel Hill are asking a more elegant, enlightened question. Does he maybe represent the very best of us, and should he be their leader?

Brooks, Cohen, Nocera and Bruni

January 21, 2014

In “The Art of Presence” Bobo says one family’s trauma offers valuable lessons on how to comfort those in pain.  He actually managed to write a column that’s worth reading.  Well, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then…  Mr. Cohen is in a snit over “Twitter-Bashing Bores.”  He snarls and says we should duck under the table as another jeremiad about the ravages of social media unfurls.  Mr. Nocera has a question:  “Does Brazil Have the Answer?”  He says as income inequality gets worse in the United States, it is falling in Brazil.  Mr. Bruni thinks he’s found “The Obama-Bush Nexus.”  He whines that our last two presidents entered a profession of crowds and commotion without a robust appetite for either.  Here’s Bobo:

Tragedy has twice visited the Woodiwiss family. In 2008, Anna Woodiwiss, then 27, was working for a service organization in Afghanistan. On April 1, she went horseback riding and was thrown, dying from her injuries. In 2013, her younger sister Catherine, then 26, was biking to work from her home in Washington. She was hit by a car and her face was severely smashed up. She has endured and will continue to endure a series of operations. For a time, she breathed and ate through a tube, unable to speak. The recovery is slow.

The victims of trauma, she writes in a remarkable blog post for Sojourners, experience days “when you feel like a quivering, cowardly shell of yourself, when despair yawns as a terrible chasm, when fear paralyzes any chance for pleasure. This is just a fight that has to be won, over and over and over again.”

Her mother, Mary, talks about the deep organic grief that a parent feels when they have lost one child and seen another badly injured, a pain felt in bones and fiber.

But suffering is a teacher. And, among other things, the Woodiwisses drew a few lessons, which at least apply to their own experience, about how those of us outside the zone of trauma might better communicate with those inside the zone. There are no uniformly right responses, but their collective wisdom, some of it contained in Catherine’s Sojourners piece, is quite useful:

Do be there. Some people think that those who experience trauma need space to sort things through. Assume the opposite. Most people need presence. The Woodiwisses say they were awed after each tragedy by the number of people, many of whom had been mere acquaintances, who showed up and offered love, from across the nation and the continents. They were also disoriented by a number of close friends who simply weren’t there, who were afraid or too busy.

Anna and Catherine’s father, Ashley, says he could detect no pattern to help predict who would step up and provide the ministry of presence and who would fumble. Neither age, experience nor personal belief correlated with sensitivity and love.

Don’t compare, ever. Don’t say, “I understand what it’s like to lose a child. My dog died, and that was hard, too.” Even if the comparison seems more germane, don’t make it. Each trauma should be respected in its uniqueness. Each story should be heard attentively as its own thing. “From the inside,” Catherine writes, comparisons “sting as clueless, careless, or just plain false.”

Do bring soup. The non-verbal expressions of love are as healing as eloquence. When Mary was living with Catherine during her recovery, some young friend noticed she didn’t have a bathmat. He went to Target and got a bathmat. Mary says she will never forget that.

Do not say “you’ll get over it.” “There is no such thing as ‘getting over it,’ ” Catherine writes, “A major disruption leaves a new normal in its wake. There is no ‘back to the old me.’ ”

Do be a builder. The Woodiwisses distinguish between firefighters and builders. Firefighters drop everything and arrive at the moment of crisis. Builders are there for years and years, walking alongside as the victims live out in the world. Very few people are capable of performing both roles.

Don’t say it’s all for the best or try to make sense out of what has happened. Catherine and her parents speak with astonishing gentleness and quiet thoughtfulness, but it’s pretty obvious that these tragedies have stripped away their tolerance for pretense and unrooted optimism.

Ashley also warned against those who would overinterpret, and try to make sense of the inexplicable. Even devout Christians, as the Woodiwisses are, should worry about taking theology beyond its limits. Theology is a grounding in ultimate hope, not a formula book to explain away each individual event.

I’d say that what these experiences call for is a sort of passive activism. We have a tendency, especially in an achievement-oriented culture, to want to solve problems and repair brokenness — to propose, plan, fix, interpret, explain and solve. But what seems to be needed here is the art of presence — to perform tasks without trying to control or alter the elemental situation. Allow nature to take its course. Grant the sufferers the dignity of their own process. Let them define meaning. Sit simply through moments of pain and uncomfortable darkness. Be practical, mundane, simple and direct.

Ashley and Mary went to Afghanistan a few months after Anna’s death. They remember that as a time out of time. They wept together with Afghan villagers and felt touched by grace. “That period changed me and opened my imagination,” Ashley recalls. “This thing called presence and love is more available than I had thought. It is more ready to be let loose than I ever imagined.”

Next up we have Mr. Cohen’s snit:

We live in the age of the Twitter-bashing bore. It’s not easy, being of a certain generation, to avoid the dinner conversation that veers into a lament about the short attention spans, constant device distraction, sad superficiality and online exhibitionism of a younger generation geared to life in 140 characters or less.

You have to duck under the table or at least bite your lip as yet another jeremiad about the depredations of social media unfurls. How the screen has taken over. How flirting is not what it used to be. How genuine experience is being lost. It is as if baby boomers had all fallen prey to some collective amnesia about the fact that our parents, equally, understood nothing about how we communicated, how we interacted, how we dated and how we mated.

They had no idea. We have no idea, either.

More things do not change than do. In the unchanging category falls the curmudgeonly tendencies of the aging, however open-minded they like to believe they are. Seduced by all the 60-is-the-new-40 babble, they fail to see that their irritation about Twitter, Snapchat and the rest is in essence irritation at the new, and that in their grumbling the most potent factors are incomprehension and sheer incapacity.

The onset of printing and the advent of the book certainly left monks seething in the seclusion of their cells, grumbling about how nothing could replace the experience of the illuminated manuscript for depth and seriousness, and how the vulgar masses would succumb to the ephemeral thrill of the printed page.

It was not so very long ago that the French poet Stéphane Mallarmé penned these words about uncut pages: “The uncut folding of the book still invites the kind of sacrifice that made the red edges of ancient tomes bleed; the introduction of a weapon or paper-knife, confirming appropriation.”

Well, we have survived printing, books and even uncut pages in them. We will survive Kindle, too, even if appropriation is now bloodless, no more than pressure on a button or a page-turning movement applied to a screen, the simulacra of physical gestures for a digital age.

The whole 140-character thing is, of course, a canard anyway. Worse, it is a betrayal of ignorance. The genius of Twitter is instantaneousness and compression. It is solipsistic, a form of narcissism, at the same time as being the ne plus ultra of outreach. Its essence is the link. Through links, tweets are in fact very long, so long that Twitter is a great way to waste time; in fact I hardly recall any longer how I wasted time before Twitter. It is also a great scattershot way to stumble on the unexpected or the enriching.

Repeat after me: Thou shalt not complain about social media or judge the habits of a generation you do not understand.

Remember, boomers, born, say, in the mid-1950s, that you were lucky, arriving midway between the atomic bomb and the release of the Beatles’ “Rubber Soul,” at the start of a postwar boom that would endure for decades, on the free side of the Iron Curtain, in a Europe embarking on the “ever closer union” that stopped the self-destruction of the first half of the 20th century, safe from the Nazi death factories, too late for the trenches, not too late for flower power, in time for the hippie trail to Kabul, and in line for the sexual sweet spot between the arrival of the Pill and the onset of AIDS. As Philip Larkin noted, “Sexual intercourse began/ In nineteen sixty-three.”

Such luck could not but build forms of amnesia. Weren’t things always this good and love always this free? The distance between our parents’ generation that had known the war and our own insouciant band was not easy to bridge. We should not fall prey to new forms of amnesia when it comes to the Facebook generation.

Sure, screen addiction can be disconcerting. Philip Roth may well have been right when he told Le Monde last year that, “My prediction is that in 30 years, if not sooner, there will be just as many people reading serious fiction in America as now read Latin poetry. A percentage do. But the number of people who find in literature a highly desirable source of sustaining pleasure and mental stimulation is sadly diminished.”

But equally, I suspect, we have little notion of what the new forms of “sustaining pleasure” are and what unexpected fruit they will yield.

And we can always fall back on the unchanging truths, like these lines from Walter Benjamin I stumbled on the other day: “Work on a good piece of writing proceeds on three levels: a musical one, where it is composed; an architectural one, where it is constructed; and finally, a textile one, where it is woven.”

They, too, in time will discover this. And if they don’t, that’s fine too.

You can Twitter-twat all you like, just don’t run me over while you’re texting and driving.  And don’t expect me to get a smart phone…  Next up we have Mr. Nocera:

Not long after I got back from my recent trip to Brazil, I called some economists to gain a better understanding of where the country stood economically. To me, Rio de Janeiro felt a little like Shanghai: there was plenty of high-end shopping in neighborhoods like Ipanema — and plenty of poverty in the favelas, or slums. There was also a lot in between. What is most striking to a visitor is how many middle-class citizens there seem to be. Cars were everywhere; traffic jams, I’ve come to believe, are a sign of a growing middle class. It means people have enough money to buy automobiles.

What I saw was no illusion. Though its starting point was quite extreme, Brazil is a country that has seen income inequality drop over the last decade. Unemployment is at near record lows. And the growth of the middle class is quite stunning. By most estimates, upward of 40 million people have been pulled out of poverty in the last decade; extreme poverty, says the government, has been reduced by 89 percent. Per capita income has continued to grow even as G.D.P. growth has slowed.

Nevertheless, the economists I spoke to were uniformly bearish about the short-term future of the Brazilian economy. They pointed, for starters, to that slowdown in G.D.P., which they didn’t expect to pick up anytime soon. Despite the country’s enormous economic gains since the beginning of this century, there has been very little accompanying productivity gains. Indeed, several economists told me that the main reason unemployment was so low was that the economy was terribly inefficient. Too much of the economy was in the hands of the state, I was told, and, what’s more, it was a consumption-based economy that lacked necessary investment. And on and on. I got the sense that many economists believe that Brazil had been more lucky than good, and now its luck was running out. In a recent article about the Brazilian economy, The Economist put it starkly: “The Deterioration,” read its headline.

As I listened to the economists, though, I couldn’t help thinking about our own economy. Our G.D.P. growth was more than 4 percent in the third quarter of 2013, and, of course, our productivity has risen relentlessly. But, despite the growth, unemployment can’t seem to drop below 7 percent. And the middle class is slowly but surely being eviscerated — thanks, at least in part, to those productivity gains. Income inequality has become a fact of life in the United States, and while politicians decry that fact, they seem incapable of doing anything about it. Which made me wonder: Whose economy runs better, really?

A few years ago, Nicholas Lemann of The New Yorker wrote a lengthy article about Brazil in which he quoted from an email he received from Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff. “The main aim of economic development must always be the improvement of living conditions,” she told him. “You cannot separate the two concepts.”

In other words, Brazil’s admittedly leftist government doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about growth for its own sake, but rather connects it with alleviating poverty and growing the middle class. Thus, it has a high minimum wage, for instance. It has laws making it exceedingly difficult to fire a laggard employee. It controls the price of gasoline, helping to make driving affordable.

And most striking of all — at least from the point of view of an American — for the last 10 years, Brazil has had a program called Bolsa Família, which essentially hands money to mothers living in poverty. In return, they have to ensure that their children go to school and avail themselves of health care services. There is no question that Bolsa Família has been enormously effective in reducing poverty.

By contrast here in the United States, Congress just refused to extend unemployment insurance. The farm bill envisions cutting back on food stamps. Various other programs to help the poor or the unemployed have been reduced. Even those who oppose such heartless cuts assume that once the economy comes back, all will be well again. Growth will take care of everything. Thus in America, we tend to view economic growth less as a means to an end than an end in itself.

It is, of course, possible that Brazil’s economy could hit the wall and some of the gains made could be reversed. A new emphasis on investment and entrepreneurship could probably help it. The spontaneous protests last summer were the results of the new middle class wanting the sorts of things that the middle class always wants: better services, higher quality schools, less corruption. Still, the Brazil example gives rise to a question we don’t ask enough in this country:

What’s the point of economic growth if nobody has a job?

Last up we have Mr. Bruni:

Our current president and his predecessor in the Oval Office are typically cast as opposites, antonyms, not just far apart on an ideological spectrum but cats of wholly different stripes.

Barack Obama: lyrical, professorial. George Bush: allergic to any glimmer of intellectualism. Obama: head. Bush: gut. Obama: city. Bush: country.

But as I read David Remnick’s widely discussed profile of Obama in this week’s New Yorker, I was struck by something that the two men have in common, an overlooked overlap that perhaps suggests what it now takes to get to the White House and why we wind up with the leaders we do. I’m talking about their talent for separation, their tendency to retreat, a fundamental detachment and insularity that seem, in one sense, antithetical to politics but may in fact be an answer to surviving the frenzy that it’s become.

This quality plays out differently in each man, or at least in his affect. Obama can project an icy hauteur, while Bush often communicated a lazy disengagement. And Bush’s surface gregariousness — the chuckling, the nicknames, the vestigial brio of the prep school cheerleader and college fraternity president that he once was — masked his essential remove.

But like Obama, he was constantly pulling back, less fond of crowds than of solitude, less inclined to meet new people than to huddle with a tight circle of trusted intimates. He’s a homebody who grew homesick on the campaign trail and couldn’t hide it, circling back as often as possible to his own bed, to familiar turf.

A quote from an unnamed acquaintance of his in a 2012 story in New York magazine by Joe Hagan went too far but hinted at something real.

“He’s become increasingly agoraphobic,” the acquaintance said, adding that Bush “doesn’t like people, he never did, he doesn’t now.”

Hagan used this comment as a buildup to the revelation that Bush had acquired an asocial avocation: He was spending hours alone at canvases, painting. The hobby was new, but some underlying affinity for it must have always been there.

My colleague Peter Baker, the author of “Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House,” recalled a particular aspect of the two-hour bike rides that Bush took during his years in office.

“He would tell people that he was happy to have them bike along with him but that he didn’t want anyone biking in front of him, because he wanted the illusion of being alone,” Baker told me.

Remnick writes that during the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama “took a vow of ‘no new friends.’ ” When he now goes to fund-raisers, “he would rather eat privately with a couple of aides before going out to perform.” He watches sports in privacy; tries not to miss his nightly dinner with Michelle and the girls; shoots hoops with an established crew; golfs with the usual suspects.

Remnick mentions that since 2009, one aide has golfed with Obama more than 100 times, while John Boehner has done so just once.

Commentators and even members of Congress upbraid Obama for this routinely. And rightly. One senator, telling me about the outsize elation of a fellow lawmaker who had finally been permitted to putt with the leader of the free world, theorized that Obama doesn’t fully appreciate the dazzle of presidential proximity and the favor that it can win him.

Maybe. Or maybe he just can’t give up that much of himself and his down time — as a matter of pacing, as a matter of sanity. Maybe the surest way for him to keep his eye on the ball and his spirits out of the sand traps is to compartmentalize the glad-handing, cordon off the hubbub. Maybe insufficient outreach is inextricable from perseverance.

For Obama and Bush, poise and detachment go hand in hand. Their campaigns succeeded in large measure because of steadiness — the trumpeted “message discipline” of the Bush troops, the famed “no drama” of Obama’s operation — and this approach required candidates who could tune out and float above the ever-changing highs, lows, mock outrages and invented scandals of the modern news cycle, with its amplified noise, its extra distractions, its exhausting velocity. This required candidates good at building walls around themselves, and at constructing and sticking to comfort zones in which they could recharge.

“Stylistically, the two presidents had much more in common than I expected,” writes Robert Gates, the former defense secretary, in his new memoir, “Duty.” He reports that neither had much zest for wooing Congress or cultivated all that many friends. “Both presidents, in short, seemed to me to be very aloof.”

That description applied to many previous presidents, too. But the snugness of its fit for Obama and Bush makes me wonder if, when we talk about how isolating the presidency is, we neglect to consider how deft at isolation some of the people who attain it already are — and, going forward, may have to be.

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

January 19, 2014

The Pasty Little Putz is having visions, or maybe fever dreams.  In “At Last, Conservative Reform” he gurgles that it’s not just that new ideas are popping up. There are also some real live politicians go to with them.  The rising stars he’s hanging his hopes on?  Marco Rubio and Mike Lee.  Nothing else needs to be said.  MoDo has a question in “Peeling Away the Plastic:”  Despite the brutal endurance tests of campaigns, do we ever really know the people we put in the Oval Office?  Just the question that MoDo should be asking, right?  The Moustache of Wisdom has decided that he has “Obama’s Homework Assignment.”  He says that as he prepares his State of the Union address, he might get some inspiration from his secretary of education.  Mr. Kristof unveils his ” ‘Neglected Topic’ Winner: Climate Change.”  He says the winner of his neglected topic contest is climate change. And there is a lot to discuss!  Mr. Bruni considers “The Cruelest Pregnancy” and says a Texas law has turned a brain-dead woman into an incubator. How does that honor life?  Here’s The Putz:

In American life, political ideas that lack partisan champions are regarded suspiciously, like an attempt to cheat at cards or pay for dinner with counterfeit cash. Because we have only two parties, because those parties are ideologically disciplined, and because everyone is obsessed with the other side’s unrighteousness, there’s a sense that if you aren’t fully on board with an existing partisan agenda, you don’t have any business getting mixed up in the debate.

There is an exception for rich people who wish Michael Bloomberg could be president: they get to have gushing articles written about their boring, implausible third-party fantasies every four years. Everyone else is out of luck. If you’re a consistent libertarian, Naderite left-winger or social conservative who’s also an economic populist, it isn’t enough to make the case for your ideas; you must perpetually explain why, in the absence of a Libertarian Party or a Socialist Party or a Mike Huckabee presidential run, anyone should even care that you exist.

And for the last few years, this same suspicion has attached itself to what had heretofore been a more mainstream group: conservative policy thinkers.

The conservative policy larder was genuinely bare by the end of the Bush presidency. But that changed, reasonably swiftly, across President Obama’s first term. A new journal, National Affairs, edited by Yuval Levin, began incubating alternatives to a re-ascendant liberalism. The older magazines and think tanks were reinvigorated, and played host to increasingly lively policy debates. And a new generation of conservative thinkers coalesced: James Capretta and Avik Roy on health care, Brad Wilcox and Kay Hymowitz on social policy, Ramesh Ponnuru on taxes and monetary policy, James Pethokoukis on financial regulation, Reihan Salam on all of the above, and many others.

By 2012, it was possible to discern the outlines of a plausible right-of-center agenda on domestic polity — a new “reform conservatism,” if you will.

But the Republican Party simply wasn’t interested.

Reform conservatism did have one partial champion in Paul Ryan, who co-sponsored the only plausible Obamacare alternative in Congress, and whose evolving Medicare proposal drew on ideas Levin and others had proposed. But Ryan was defined (and mostly defined himself) as Mr. Austerity rather than Mr. Reform. The rest of the party, meanwhile, was consumed by a Tea Party vs. Establishment rivalry that had a policy substrate but was just as often about posturing and score-settling.

And then came the Romney campaign, about whose substance the less said the better.

So a question has hovered over the would-be conservative reformers: If their ideas lack Republican champions, do they actually matter? Are they even worthy of debate? Or is reform conservatism basically a curiosity, an irrelevancy, a kind of center-right Naderism?

Which is why the most consequential recent development for the G.O.P. might not actually be Chris Christie’s traffic scandal. It might, instead, be the fact that reform conservatism suddenly has national politicians in its corner.

The first is Mike Lee, the junior Senator from Utah, who has pivoted from leading the defund-Obamacare movement to basically becoming a one-stop shop for provocative reform ideas: in the last six months, his office has proposed a new family-friendly tax reform, reached across the aisle to work on criminal justice issues and offered significant new proposals on transportation and higher education reform.

The second is Marco Rubio, whose speech two weeks ago on the anniversary of the declaration of the war on poverty called for two major changes to the safety net: first, pooling federal antipoverty programs into a single fund that would allow more flexibility for state experiments; and second, replacing the earned-income tax credit with a direct wage subsidy designed to offer more help to low-income, single men.

Taken together, Lee’s and Rubio’s proposals are already more interesting and promising than almost anything Republicans campaigned on in 2012 — and there may be more to come, from them and perhaps from Ryan as well.

Of course these ideas coexist, as liberals have been quick to point out, with a congressional party that’s still wedded to opposition, austerity and not much else. But the Republican Party’s problems were never going to be solved from the House of Representatives, any more than House Democrats could rescue their party from its Reagan-era wilderness. The more likely solution for the G.O.P. has always required a two-step process: rising-star politicians coalesce around a new agenda; then a winning presidential candidate puts it into effect.

Which may not happen in this case — because the party’s base may be too rejectionist, because Hillary Clinton may actually be unstoppable no matter what her rival’s platform says, because two senators do not a reformist moment make.

But for conservative policy reformers, there’s an unfamiliar feeling in the air: It’s as if, for the first time in many years, their perspective actually exists.

Poor, poor Putzy, having to hang all his hopes on such slim reeds…  Now here’s MoDo:

It’s hard to imagine anything more painful than going through the presidential campaign all over again with Mitt Romney.

Unless it’s going through two presidential campaigns with Mitt Romney.

But, yes, that’s the narrative of a new buzzed-about documentary that had its world premiere here on Friday night at the Sundance Film Festival.

Those who have seen “Mitt” — which debuts on Netflix on Friday — are agog that filmmaker Greg Whiteley has accomplished what Romney himself, the gleaming, ever-replicating Romney clan and the candidate’s high-priced political strategists could not: Willard Mitt Romney seems all too human.

He wells up. He prays with his family, kneeling on the floor of hotel rooms, and plays with them in the snow. He refers to himself sardonically as “the flipping Mormon” and frets that he could become a loser like Michael Dukakis, who “can’t get a job mowing lawns.” He daringly steam irons the French cuffs on a formal shirt while it’s on his body, just before he goes down in tails to the Al Smith dinner at the Waldorf. He stays calm when he learns Obama is winning re-election: “Wow, that’s too bad,” he tells an aide on the phone. “All those states, huh?”

Drawn no doubt by word of the miraculous cinematic oil can for the Tin Man, Mitt came to see “Mitt” for the first time last Friday night. Maybe Romney sees the film less as a eulogy than a prologue. There are rumors in Republican circles that he’s thinking about another run.

A Republican fund-raising operative even told BuzzFeed that donors are so worried about 2016 now, many tell him, “I think we need Mitt back.”

It seems preposterous that we’d go through a third Romney run, but with Chris Christie imploding and Barbara Bush denouncing dynasties and shooing Jeb out of the race, maybe the 66-year-old sees an opening. Maybe he no longer feels, as he tells his family in the film on election night in 2012, stoically writing his concession speech, “My time on the stage is over, guys.”

The movie spans from Christmastime 2006, with the family gathered to make a decision on whether Mitt should run in 2008, to after the 2012 election, when he says goodbye to his Secret Service detail and returns to his empty suburban Boston home, sadly staring out the window.

I dread to think what was going through Romney’s mind as he watched a movie that made him more appealing than any of his campaign ads or his own convention, even though he paid Stuart Stevens and his other 2012 advisers ridiculously more than the winning politicos who delivered a second term for Barack Obama were paid.

But Whiteley, a charming 44-year-old Mormon documentarian who brought along his adorable blond kids — 12-year-old son, Henry, and 10-year-old daughter, Scout — to his press interviews, was trying to reveal Mitt, while Romney’s handlers were trying to obscure Mitt.

“Stuart Stevens’s feeling was that Mitt Romney was a fish out of water,” Alex Castellanos, a 2008 Romney adviser who crossed swords with Stevens in that campaign, told me. “He was a Northerner in a Southern party. He was a centrist in a conservative party. He was an elite in a rural party. Stuart didn’t think he could sell Mitt Romney in the primaries.

“Stuart thought that every day spent talking about Mitt Romney was a losing day and every day spent talking about Barack Obama was a winning day. It was criminal.”

Romney was able to relax around his fellow Mormon, Whiteley, enough to seem less awkward and strange, but he’s still in the bubble of his faith and family, seemingly cloistered from the world of average Americans.

The film glosses over one of the turning points in the campaign, the 47 percent fiasco. “I was insecure about that,” Whiteley admitted to me, noting that Romney didn’t give him a more lucid explanation than he gave the press.

It also glides over the bad symbolism of building a four-car garage elevator at his La Jolla house, which Stevens told Romney would be fine.

And while Romney offers a portrait of a man reluctantly drawn into politics because he thinks it is his duty to save the nation from people like Obama, who “have not been in a setting where you’re trying to make it,” he never really explains how he would save it or gives any clue to the Vision Thing, except murmuring about high taxes on small businesses.

In the end, despite all the campaign artifice and the brutal process, we do get to know the candidates in some primal way.

The fact that Romney allowed his strategists to keep a fence around him and his faith, which is so central to his life, the fact that he basically had nothing to say about where he wanted to lead the country, the fact that the private equity leecher spoke so dismissively about the 47 percent of people he regarded as moochers, the fact that this supposedly top-notch businessman did not seem to realize his campaign was using 20th-century technology — all of this spoke to a certain tentativeness, obtuseness and callousness.

But there’s always 2016.

God spare us Mittens again.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Here’s a scary fact about America: We’re much more likely to believe that there are signs that aliens have visited Earth (77 percent) than that humans are causing climate change (44 percent).

That comes to mind because a couple of weeks ago, I asked readers for suggestions of “neglected topics” that we in the news business should cover more aggressively in 2014. Some 1,300 readers recommended a broad range of issues, which I look forward to pilfering (with credit!) — and many made a particularly compelling case for climate change.

A reader from Virginia quoted James Hansen, the outspoken climate scientist: “Imagine a giant asteroid on a direct collision course with Earth. That is the equivalent of what we face now.”

Another reader, Daria, acknowledged that the topic isn’t sexy but added: “Whether we ‘believe in it’ or not, all species on Earth are being subject to frightening disruptions in our weather, food supply, land.”

You would think that we would be more attentive, with the federal government a few days ago declaring parts of 11 states disaster areas because of long-term drought. More than 60 percent of California is now in extreme drought.

Yet we in the news media manage to cover weather very aggressively, while we’re reticent on climate. Astonishingly, coverage of climate has actually declined in mainstream news organizations since peaking in 2007, according to the count of researchers at the University of Colorado. (Coverage did increase last year after a low in 2012.)

The proportion of Americans who say they believe that global warming is real has fallen since 2007 as well, and climate beliefs have fallen victim to political polarization. In 1997, there was no significant gap between Republicans and Democrats in thinking about climate change. These days, 66 percent of Democrats say human activity is the main cause of global warming; 24 percent of Republicans say so.

My take is that when Democrats, led by Al Gore, championed climate change, Republicans instinctively grew suspicious. Yet the scientific consensus is stronger than ever. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in September raised its confidence that human activity is the main cause of warming from 90 percent probability to 95 percent or higher.

When we have this disjunction between scientific consensus and popular perception — well, that should light a fire under those of us in the news media.

An excellent basis for discussion is the new book “The Climate Casino” by William Nordhaus, a Yale University economist. Professor Nordhaus is a moderate whose work has been cited by climate deniers, yet he concludes: “Global warming is a major threat to humans.”

Nordhaus acknowledges uncertainty but sees that as a problem: “The outcome will produce surprises, and some of them are likely to be perilous.”

For all the uncertainty, Nordhaus cites several areas of strong agreement among experts: Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere exceed those observed for at least the last 650,000 years; hurricanes will grow more intense; the Arctic will become ice free in summer; oceans will rise up to 23 inches by 2100 (more if there were major melting of ice sheets); and the global temperature will likely be 3.5 degrees to 7.5 degrees Fahrenheit higher in 2100 than in 1900.

A 7.5 degree difference in average temperature may not sound like much. But it’s about the differential by which Arizona is warmer than New Jersey.

Nordhaus warns that “the pace of global warming will quicken over the decades to come and climate conditions will quickly pass beyond the range of recent historical experience.”

Perhaps the greatest risk is various discontinuities and feedback loops that are difficult for climate models to account for. Melting of the Greenland ice sheet is typically predicted to add only a few inches to sea level rise by 2100, Nordhaus says. But ice dynamics are still poorly understood, and that matters a great deal. If the whole Greenland ice sheet disintegrated, that would raise sea level by 24 feet.

Climate change is hugely exacerbated by changing patterns of how we choose to live, often in danger zones such as extremely vulnerable coastal zones — from New Jersey to the Philippines. This enormously increases the economic and human costs of hurricanes, rising seas and changing weather patterns.

In politics and the military, we routinely deal with uncertainty. We’re not sure that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon, but we still invest in technologies and policies to reduce the risks. We can’t be sure that someone is going to hijack a plane, but we still screen passengers.

So, readers, you’re right! This is a neglected topic. We need to focus more on climate change, and perhaps that can help nudge our political system out of paralysis to take protective action to reduce the threat to the only planet we have.

And last but not least we have Mr. Bruni:

What would Marlise Munoz have made of all of this?

We’ll never know. She can no longer form words. Can no longer form thoughts. It’s arguable that we shouldn’t even be referring to a “she,” to a “her,” because if she’s brain-dead, as her family has consistently said, then she meets the legal criteria for death in all 50 states, and what’s been tethered to machines in a hospital in Fort Worth for the last seven weeks isn’t exactly a mother. It’s an artificially maintained ecosystem, an incubator for a fetus that has somehow been given precedence over all other concerns: the pain of Marlise’s husband and parents; their wishes to put an end to this; their best guess about what her desires would have been; her transformation, without any possibility of her consent, into a mere vessel.

“A host,” her father, Ernest Machado, called her in an interview with Manny Fernandez of The Times. He used equally chilling language to describe her stillness and the rubbery feel of her skin, saying that she reminded him of “a mannequin.”

Is her fate really what we mean when we speak of “valuing life” or “the sanctity of life,” to summon two phrases tossed around too quickly and simplistically? It seems to me that several lives are being devalued in the process, and that while there are no happy outcomes here, there’s also no sense or dignity on the chilling road that this Texas hospital is taking us down.

In late November, Marlise, 33, was found unconscious on the kitchen floor by her husband, Erick. She had apparently suffered a pulmonary embolism. At the hospital, according to Erick’s subsequent statements, it was determined that she was brain-dead, and he requested that she be disconnected from the machines that keep her vital organs functioning. He and she had both worked as paramedics and had discussed such end-of-life decisions, he said, and so he knew that she wouldn’t have wanted any extraordinary measures taken. The woman he loved was gone. It was time to come to bitter terms with that, and to say goodbye.

Hospital officials, supposedly acting on behalf of the state, won’t let him. They went ahead with extraordinary measures, because Marlise was 14 weeks pregnant, and while that fell well within the window when abortion is legal, a Texas law compels hospitals to provide life support for terminally ill patients with fetuses developing inside them.

There’s considerable dispute about whether this law in fact covers Marlise’s situation: about whether someone brain-dead qualifies as a patient and can be said to be receiving life support. Hospital officials have not formally confirmed that she’s brain-dead, explaining that her husband hasn’t granted them dispensation to discuss specifics of her condition. Lawyers representing him told CNN on Friday that her medical records indeed document brain death.

But regardless of the law and whether it applies to Marlise’s case, the treatment of her and her family isn’t just or right, for many reasons.

It’s not at all clear, for starters, that the fetus has a good chance of surviving inside the womb or of flourishing outside of it. In a study of a few dozen cases of continued pregnancies inside brain-dead women, only one of the five fetuses that were between 13 and 15 weeks at the time of the mother’s brain death was successfully delivered — by cesarean section — and kept alive, though the study tracked the boy only until 11 months after his birth.

I talked last week with two prominent obstetricians, both of whom said that it was impossible, until relatively late in a pregnancy, to get any real sense of how much neurological damage a fetus may have already suffered as a result of a maternal embolism and of any oxygen deprivation that occurred. They also said that a pregnancy dependent on artificial organ maintenance entails an array of dangers to the fetus beyond ordinary ones, including the mother’s susceptibility to infections.

“It’s extremely risky for fetal development,” said Mary D’Alton, the head of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. But, she added, “If the family is willing and it’s something they want, it’s something I would attempt — and have attempted.” She said that she was involved in two such pregnancies. In one, the fetus died in utero at 27 weeks. In the other, a child was born, but with problems.

She dwelt on the part about the family’s will, focusing on a simple truth that the Texas situation sweeps to the side. “They will live with the impact,” D’Alton said.

From what’s been reported about Marlise’s case, the hospital, executing the will of the state, has been making all of the calls about the care of the fetus, now about 21 weeks along. (The threshold for viability is generally considered to be 24 weeks.) But if there’s a premature birth and quick death, Marlise’s husband and parents will presumably be expected to deal with that.

And if a baby is born with severe and enduring ailments, Marlise’s husband and parents will presumably inherit the effort to give that child a decent quality of life, which is a concept that goes strangely missing in too many disputes over the unborn.

In other words they’ll possibly confront a slew of decisions “downstream from a decision that they already made and that got overruled,” the one to remove her from machines, said Hyagriv Simhan, the chief of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “It’s quite complex.”

That’s one word for it. Cruel is another.

Marlise apparently didn’t leave any advance medical directive covering the particular scenario of artificial organ maintenance for a fetus well shy of viability. How many women do? In the absence of such instructions, her physicians should have done what they would have if there’d been no fetus — looked to, and heeded, her obvious surrogates, her next of kin. In her instance there’s a husband and two parents all certain of what to do and all on the same page. Still it doesn’t matter, because of a Texas statute that’s too far-reaching, too ambiguous and at strange odds with the state’s abortion laws.

While Texas, like other states, has been trying to make it harder and harder to obtain abortions, it cannot ultimately prevent a woman who is still able to speak for herself from ending a pregnancy in the early stages. How, then, can it prevent a family who speaks legitimately for her from taking that same step? Especially in a circumstance like this, so riddled with risks, questions and heartbreak? Marlise’s husband and parents may not be able to ask her what she’d make of it. But they’re the ones left to behold and grieve over what’s been made of her.

Brooks, Nocera and Bruni

January 14, 2014

Bobo has a question in “The Leadership Revival:”  What should today’s aspiring leaders do to pursue careers that lead to meaningful change?  Bobo haz a sad.  Bobo says gummint doesn’t work, but the people are wonderful.  “Gemli” from Boston says all that needs to be said about this POS:  “Government isn’t the problem, Mr. Brooks. It’s the people you shill for who brought it to its knees. Direct your high-minded advice to them.”  Mr. Nocera continues his outrage.  In “The Asbestos Scam, Part 2″ he gloats that a new decision from a federal bankruptcy judge is a potential game-changer in endless lawsuits.  In “According Animals Dignity” Mr. Bruni says there’s ample evidence of a whole new respect for the feelings of the furry and the finned.  Here’s Bobo:

If you are in politics or public life, you probably had some moment of spine-tingling transcendence. Maybe you read the Declaration of Independence or watched the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mountaintop sermon, or read Nelson Mandela’s 1964 speech from the dock.

Suddenly, your imagination was inflamed beyond its normal scope. You were enveloped by this epic sense that public life could be truly heroic. The people who issue these statements brought their lives to a glorious point, pledging their sacred honor, offering to sacrifice their lives for some public mission.

You got into public life inspired by something like that. But how do you execute that sort of vision? How do you translate the poetry of high aspiration into the prose of effective governance? This is the common problem today. Most people go into public life for the right reasons, but government doesn’t work. The quality of the people is high, but the quality of leadership is low.

I’d suggest three responses.

First, apprentice yourself to a master craftsman. Find yourself a modern version of Ted Kennedy cobbling together a Senate majority. Find yourself some silent backstage official, who knows how to slide ideas through the bureaucracy. Glue yourself to that person in order to learn the craft of governance.

Schools are good at transmitting what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott called technical knowledge. This is the sort of knowledge that can be expressed in rules and put down in books — like the recipes in a cookbook. But craftsmen possess and transmit practical knowledge. This sort of knowledge, Oakeshott says, exists only in use. It cannot be taught, only imparted by imitation and experience. It’s knowing when to depart from the cookbook; how much, when running a meeting, to let the conversation flow and how much to rein it in.

Practical knowledge is hard to see, but it is embedded in traditions of behavior. It is embedded in the lives of older legislators and public servants, and it is passed down by imitation to the younger ones. This craft of governing well has been forsaken and disrespected, but you will not be effective in public life unless you find a wise old person who will teach you the tricks of the trade, hour after hour, side by side.

Second, take a reality bath. Go off and become a stranger in a strange land. Go off to some alien part of this country or the world. Immerse yourself in the habits and daily patterns of that existence and stay there long enough to get acculturated. Stay there long enough so that you forget the herd mentality of our partisan culture.

When you return home, you will look at your own place with foreign eyes. You’ll see the contours of your own reality more clearly. When you return to native ground, you’re more likely to possess the sort of perceptiveness that Isaiah Berlin says is the basis of political judgment.

This sort of wisdom consists of “a special sensitiveness to the contours of the circumstances in which we happen to be placed; it is a capacity for living without falling foul of some permanent condition or factor which cannot be either altered, or even fully described.” This wisdom is based on a tactile awareness of your country and its people — what they want, how they react. You don’t think this awareness. You feel it. You experience a visceral oneness with culture and circumstance — the smell of the street, tinges of anger and hope and aspiration. The irony is that you are more likely to come into union with your own home culture after you have been away from it. You have to walk away from the partisan tunnel vision to see how things really are.

Finally, close off your options. People in public life live in a beckoning world. They have an array of opportunities. They naturally want to keep all their options open. The shrewd strategists tell them to make a series of tepid commitments to see what pans out. Hedge your bets. Play it smart.

But the shrewd strategy leads to impotence. You spread yourself thin. You dissipate your energies and never put full force behind any cause. You make your own trivial career the object of your attention, not the vision that inspired you in the first place.

The public official who does this leaves no mark. Only the masters of renunciation leave an imprint, only those who can say a hundred Nos for the sake of an overwhelming Yes. Only the person who has burned the ships and committed to one issue has the courage to cast aside the advice of the strategists and actually push through change.

We live in a nation of good people and ineffective government. I don’t know if these tactics will improve the quality of the nation’s leadership, but something has to.

Putting half the Congress in a lunatic asylum might help…  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Six weeks ago, I wrote a column about a ridiculous lawsuit being brought by Carolyn McCarthy, a congresswoman from Long Island. A smoker for most of her life, McCarthy has lung cancer. Yet her lawyers claimed that it was her “exposure” to asbestos, through the work clothes of her father and brother, both boilermakers, that triggered her cancer. Though McCarthy certainly deserves our sympathy as she fights cancer, it is hard to see her lawsuit as anything but an undeserved money grab — and the latest twist in asbestos litigation, the longest running tort in American history, with no end in sight.

Then again, maybe there is finally an end in sight. Late Friday afternoon, Judge George Hodges, a federal bankruptcy judge in North Carolina, wrote a breathtaking decision, in which he essentially pulled the lid off another form of asbestos scam. Though he shrank from labeling the actions of the plaintiffs’ lawyers involved in asbestos litigation as “fraudulent,” he did describe the litigation as “infected with the impropriety of some law firms.” It’s a potential game-changer.

There are two reasons it can be difficult to write about asbestos lawsuits. The first is that the modern-day plaintiff truly is sick — if not with lung cancer then with mesothelioma, a deadly disease that results from extensive exposure to asbestos decades earlier. Given the rules of American society, mesothelioma victims undoubtedly deserve compensation from whichever company used the product that caused their illness.

The second reason is that asbestos litigation has become more complicated than 3-D chess. For years, it was easy to explain the scam: People who weren’t sick were being diagnosed with asbestosis by doctors being paid by asbestos lawyers. That has largely ended — hence the current emphasis on mesothelioma lawsuits, which have the added advantage (for the lawyers) of being potentially multimillion-dollar cases. Today, with around 100 companies having been bankrupted by asbestos litigation, and $37 billion set aside in trusts for victims, you would think the litigation would be winding down. Guess again.

Enter Garlock Sealing Technologies, a maker of gaskets. For years, it was on the periphery of asbestos litigation because, while its gaskets had once contained asbestos, it was a kind that had 1/100th of the risk of the more commonly used product. In addition, the asbestos was sealed, usually behind far-more-dangerous asbestos insulation made by some other, more culpable, company.

Stephen Macadam, the chief executive of EnPro, Garlock’s parent company, told me that he had expected that the litigation pressure would ease on Garlock as other companies succumbed to bankruptcy and set up trusts for victims. Instead, the opposite happened. Garlock became a prime target, precisely because it was still standing.

For years, Garlock had made calculated decisions about how to deal with its asbestos litigation. It fought some cases and settled others. But, by 2010, inundated with mesothelioma cases, it too filed for bankruptcy protection. Then it did something different. It fought back.

The judge allowed the company to do a deep dive into 15 cases that Garlock had previously settled. For a victim to demand money from Garlock, he or she had to stipulate that Garlock’s gasket had been a primary exposure to asbestos. To maximize the money they could get from Garlock, they would deny, under oath, other exposures to the products of the bankrupt companies that had set up trusts.

But as Garlock soon discovered, no sooner had the victims settled then they would file documents with a dozen or more trusts stipulating the opposite: that they had had “meaningful and credible exposure” to asbestos from the bankrupt companies. (The plaintiffs’ lawyers, who control the trusts, have successfully fought to keep this information confidential.) Judge Hodges, in his decision, seemed thunderstruck that this pattern occurred in every case that Garlock investigated. The phrase he used to describe this behavior was “withholding evidence.”

It would have been helpful if this decision had come a decade or more ago, before so many companies were forced into bankruptcy. But maybe, just maybe, other companies will start to follow Garlock’s example and finally put an end to the asbestos scam.

As to why anyone should care whether innocent companies have to pay millions to asbestos victims and their lawyers, I would offer three reasons. First, when victims get more than they should under the rules, it means that someone else down the road will wind up with less than he or she should. Second, litigation designed to bring innocent companies to their knees is an impediment to economic growth and job creation.

And, finally, there is the rule of law, which the asbestos lawyers suing Garlock clearly flouted. We are very good in this country at pointing out the failure of other countries’ judicial systems to abide by the rule of law. Shouldn’t we be just as rigorous when the failure is our own?

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

As of late Monday afternoon, when I was finishing this column, the most frequently emailed story on The Times’s website for the previous week wasn’t about the polar vortex, Chris Christie or “Downton Abbey.”

It was about cats.

I suppose that’s no big shock. On blogs, on Facebook and all around the Internet, claws and clicks go hand in hand (or is that paw in paw?). While the meek may be inheriting the earth, the furry have already claimed cyberspace.

But what is surprising — and indicative of a new chapter in the interactions of Americans and the animals around us — is the focus of the cat story in question.

It wasn’t about kittens doing the darnedest things. Under the headline “What Your Cat Is Thinking,” it examined the new book “Cat Sense,” by a British biologist, John Bradshaw, who flags his seriousness of purpose with his subtitle, “How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet.” Bradshaw means to get into the cat brain.

He’s already plumbed its canine counterpart, in the 2011 book “Dog Sense,” which was also grounded in research, not sentiment, and in the idea that pets have inner lives more complicated than we imagine. “Dog Sense” was published just two years after the huge best seller “Inside of a Dog,” by the psychology professor Alexandra Horowitz, which pivoted on the same notion.

It was “Inside of a Dog” in particular that caught my friend Kerry Lauerman’s attention, cluing him in to a quickly shifting human perspective on animals.

“There’s this growing obsession with animal cognition,” he said. Referring specifically to pets, he added: “We don’t want animals just for comfort. We really want to know them.” He mentioned another widely emailed story in The Times, from October, by a neuroeconomics professor who was doing M.R.I. scans of dogs’ brains and finding suggestions of emotions like ours. Its telling headline: “Dogs Are People, Too.”

Lauerman wasn’t merely musing. He was explaining the rationale for a new website, The Dodo, that’s dedicated to animal news and features and made its debut this week. He’s its chief executive officer and editor in chief, and came to it from the influential online publication Salon, where he was the editor in chief from late 2010 to mid-2013.

One of The Dodo’s principal financial backers is Ken Lerer, the current chairman of BuzzFeed and one of the founders of the Huffington Post. His daughter, Izzie Lerer, created and developed the site with Lauerman. Additionally, she’s finishing up her doctorate in philosophy at Columbia University, where her research focuses on the evolving compact between people and animals.

The Dodo’s pedigree speaks to a broadening, deepening concern about animals that’s no longer sufficiently captured by the phrase “animal welfare.” An era of what might be called animal dignity is upon us. You see signs everywhere.

A story in The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reported a sharp rise over the last few years in the fraction of American dog and cat owners with provisions in their wills for their pets. Nearly one in every 10 have made such arrangements.

One of the most fervently embraced documentaries of 2013 was “Blackfish,” shown over and over on CNN. It doesn’t just depict mistreatment of killer whales at SeaWorld; it makes the case that these glorious mammals have rich social and family connections and a profound capacity for grief.

There’s been extensive discussion lately of elephants’ emotional lives, and Hillary Clinton, with her famously active political antenna, recently found time to narrate a documentary, “White Gold,” about the bloody wages of the ivory trade, and to speak at its premiere.

People who go on lion hunts encounter stern public shaming. (The Dodo recounts a recent example.) Bill de Blasio has prioritized the retirement of Central Park’s carriage horses. Several prominent retailers, including Gap and H&M, stopped procuring angora last year after a widely shared video of the fur being yanked from rabbits’ bodies. The movement to accord chimpanzees and some other kinds of apes legal rights is accelerating, and greater scrutiny of food production has prompted keener disgust over the fate of many farm animals, along with state legislation to spare them florid suffering.

This is only going to build, because at the same time that scientific advances force us to gaze upon the animal kingdom with more respect, the proliferation of big and little cameras — of eyes everywhere — permits us to eavesdrop not just on animal play but also on animal persecution. It’s all documented, it all goes viral, and we can’t turn away, or claim ignorance, as easily as we once did.

“Those creatures big and small that have fed, frightened, entertained, comforted and awed us are no longer just them,” Lauerman writes in a letter to The Dodo’s readers. “Increasingly, they are us.”

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

January 12, 2014

All of a sudden The Pasty Little Putz is trying to convince us that he cares about “The War on Women.”  He has a question:  What is behind all the threats, venom and misogyny that women face online?  “Gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “Douthat is always bemoaning sexual liberation, to the extent that it’s a bit disturbing. It makes you wonder what decade he lives in, if he hasn’t yet caught up with the ‘sixties. Rather than liberation and liberalism, he might think about the damage ignorance, fear and repression cause.”  In “Thunder Road” MoDo says Chris Christie groveled like a champ, but the traffic jam scam is still unraveling.  The Moustache of Wisdom, in “If I Had a Hammer,” says in the Second Machine Age, it’s all about getting smarter, faster.  And if you can’t do that you can always sell your old clothes.  Mr. Kristof tells us that “In This Case, the Victim Was 4.”  He says doing a better job of imposing punishment has reduced sexual violence in the United States. It could work in other parts of the world, too.  Mr. Bruni considers “The ‘I’ in Christie’s Storm” and says in politics, it’s best to work some “we” into the me, me me.  Here’s Putzy:

The year is new, but we already have a candidate for the most troubling magazine essay of 2014: Amanda Hess on “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet,” in the latest issue of Pacific Standard.

Hess takes a reality many people may be only dimly aware of — that female writers come in for an extraordinary amount of abuse online — and fleshes it out with detail, data and personal experience. The anecdotes, her own and others, range from the offensive to the terrifying, but there’s also a thudding, soul-crushing sameness to them: graphic threats of sexual violence, rape and murder, intertwining and repeating.

Everyone who writes online comes in for abuse, but Hess’s essay describes a form of intimate attack that few male journalists experience. We hear about it over drinks, we catch glimpses of it on Twitter, but it’s easy for us to miss how radically different it makes our female peers’ experience.

Hess’s essay is mostly interested in solutions and responses: how women should deal with their harassers; how online forums should police abuse; how the laws surrounding stalking and discrimination might adapt to deal with online threats.

But it’s also useful to think about root causes, and where all the hate and twisted fantasies are coming from. Is this misogyny always latent in a subset of the male population, or are there magnifying forces at work?

One potential magnifier, of course, is the Internet itself, which by its nature is a kind of unreal space for many users — a place where a range of impulses can be discussed, explored and acted out in what feels like a consequence-free zone.

There is some evidence that the emergence of this fantasy space has actually made the real world slightly safer for women: studies have shown correlations between access to online pornography and lower rates of sexual assault. But the flip side is that many men who might have successfully regulated their darker impulses now have what seems like a green light to be “virtually” abusive … because they’re just trying out a role, or because the woman on the receiving end seems no more real to them than a character in a pornographic film.

Another magnifier is ideology. Hess is a feminist who works in culture-war terrain, and there’s no question that women writing from that perspective come in for more personal, sexualized abuse than women writing about, say, monetary policy. Where the personal is political, the political becomes personal more quickly, and the grotesque abuse that liberal, feminist writers can receive for being liberal feminists is a scandal that conservatives, especially, need to acknowledge and deplore.

But many conservative and libertarian women also take a remarkable amount of sexual-political abuse. So it may be that the culture war cuts both ways, and a certain kind of left-wing narrative about gender — in which women are expected to hold liberal views just by virtue of being female — can become a license for allegedly progressive men to demean and dehumanize women who decline to play that part.

And then to further complicate matters, there is the phenomenon of intraliberal misogyny — like the flood of abuse, cited by Hess, that greeted the atheist writer Rebecca Watson when she wrote about sexism and harassment at a skeptics’ convention.

Cases like Watson’s suggest that there’s a chauvinist attitude in play here, a kind of crypto-ideology of sex and gender, that doesn’t map neatly onto what we usually think of as culture-war divides. This attitude is “liberal”  in that it regards sexual license as an unalloyed good, and treats any kind of social or religious conservatism as a dead letter. But at the same time it wants to rebel and lash out against the strictures it feels that feminism and political correctness have placed on male liberty, male rights.

Sometimes this rebellion is just coarse and libertine: think of lad magazines, or the world of pick-up artists, or Seth MacFarlane on Oscar night. But where it intersects with status anxieties, personal failure and sexual frustration, it can turn vicious — in effect, scapegoating women (those frigid castraters, those promiscuous teases) for the culture’s failure to deliver a beer-commercial vision of male happiness.

I don’t think either the left or the right quite understands this worldview: feminists tend to see it simply as a species of reaction, social conservatives as the dark fruit of sexual liberation, when it’s really a combination of the two. And because it channels some legitimate male anxieties alongside its chauvinism and resentment, it probably can’t be shamed or driven underground — or not, at least, without making its side effects for women that much more toxic.

Instead, it needs to be answered, somehow, with a more compelling vision of masculine goals, obligations and aspirations. Forging this vision is a project for both sexes. Living up to it, and cleansing the Internet of the worst misogyny, is ultimately a task for men.

No shit, really?  Next up we have MoDo:

I have learned two things covering politics.

One, first impressions are often right. John Edwards is slick. Hillary Clinton is expedient. W. was in over his head. Barack Obama is too much in his head. Chris Christie can be a bully.

Politicians are surrounded by spinners who work tirelessly to shape our perceptions of the characters of their bosses. Pols know how to polish scratches in their image with sin-and-redemption news conferences, TV confessionals and self-deprecating turns at hoary Washington press banquets. As Carter spokesman Jody Powell joked, if Hitler and Eva Braun came on stage at the Gridiron Dinner and mocked themselves in a song-and-dance routine, Washington chatterers would say, “Oh, they’re not so bad.”

After being showered with spin, you say to yourself, maybe that first impression was wrong. But often it isn’t.

Christie’s two-hour “I am not a bully” news conference was operatic about an act of malice so petty it did not merit being called “authentic Jersey corruption,” as New Jersey native Jon Stewart said, adding that it was unworthy of a state with a severed horse head on its flag.

If you’re going to wage a vendetta, at least make it a well-thought-out one. How can Christie & Co. run a national campaign when they can’t even aim straight? How moronic to think the mayor of Fort Lee would get blamed for problems on a bridge that everyone knows is controlled by the Port Authority. If you want to be malicious, it would be so easy to put a project close to the mayor’s heart on hold for a few months or redirect 60 state snowplows the night before a storm.

The governor groveled to New Jersey residents after his aides so gleefully burned them (even joking about children being late for the first day of school because of the orchestrated gridlock on the George Washington Bridge).

After zapping Obama for being so clueless that he couldn’t find “the light switch of leadership” in a dark room, Christie is trying to salvage his once blazing career by claiming he was in a dark room, clueless to the bogus traffic study masking a revenge plan that top aides were executing in plain sight.

The epic news conference felt like a scene out of the governor’s favorite movie, “The Godfather”: Christie offering his tremulous, grandiose, self-pitying public apologia while in cross-cut scenes, his henchmen were getting rid of those who threatened his operation.

Calling his deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly “stupid” and “deceitful,” he threw her off the bridge, without talking to her himself or, as Niall O’Dowd slyly wrote in, even extending the courtesy of the old Irish wedding night admonition: “Brace yourself, Bridget.”

He also disappeared his two-time campaign manager, Bill Stepien. His cronies at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, fell on their swords last month.

Christie took a line straight out of the Robert DeNiro handbook, lamenting: “I am heartbroken that someone who I permitted to be in that circle of trust for the last five years betrayed my trust.”

Yet we know workplaces are chameleon-like. I once had a publisher who loved the Audubon Society, so we ran a lot of bird stories. I had another boss who wore suspenders, so guys in the office started wearing suspenders.

Shades of Watergate: Since they were headed toward a landslide, you’d think the Christie crew would have been in a more benevolent mood. But given the governor’s past flashes of vindictive behavior, this was probably a wink-wink, nod-nod deal. Question: Who will rid me of this meddlesome mayor? Answer: The “little Serbian” has been dealt with.

The second thing I’ve learned from covering politics is that we can debate ad nauseam whether Christie was telling the truth, shading it or bluffing. But we can’t gauge that from his impressive, marathon Trenton performance art.

No matter how jaded we feel in the news business, we are still suckers for the big lie. It’s tough to wrap your head around a stunning level of duplicity.

I learned this lesson the hard way covering Paul Tsongas’s presidential surge in 1992. When The Times’s Dr. Larry Altman came on the campaign trail to interview Tsongas, he was skeptical about the candidate’s claim that his lymphoma had not recurred. I told Altman it was impossible for me to believe that Tsongas, who prided himself on his honesty and who was so straightforward he was mocked as “Saint Paul” by Clinton aides, could lie about that — especially given the profound political consequences.

Dr. Altman was right, as Tsongas later admitted. The candidate and his doctors at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston repeatedly said he was cancer-free when he was not.

A cascade of subsequent outraged denials about transgressive behavior delivered with bravado and finger wagging, from Gary Hart to Bill Clinton to John Edwards to Anthony Weiner, has persuaded me that politicians — who are narcissists and, in essence, actors stuck in the same role — can persuasively tell the big lie if they believe their futures are on the line.

The Christie saga is still unraveling. Maybe he was a dupe in the dark. Maybe the man in the fleece jacket is fleecing us. Let’s just say, I’m not yet permitting him in my circle of trust.

Oh, puhLEEEZE.  Christie a dupe?  Then I’m the Queen of the May.  Idiot bitch.  Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

My favorite story in Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s fascinating new book, “The Second Machine Age,” is when the Dutch chess grandmaster Jan Hein Donner was asked how he’d prepare for a chess match against a computer, like I.B.M.’s Deep Blue. Donner replied: “I would bring a hammer.”

Donner isn’t alone in fantasizing that he’d like to smash some recent advances in software and automation — think self-driving cars, robotic factories and artificially intelligent reservationists — which are not only replacing blue-collar jobs at a faster rate, but now also white-collar skills, even grandmasters!

Something very, very big happened over the last decade. It is being felt in every job, factory and school. My own shorthand is that the world went from “connected to hyperconnected” and, as a result, average is over, because employers now have so much easier, cheaper access to above-average software, automation and cheap genius from abroad. Brynjolfsson and McAfee, both at M.I.T., offer a more detailed explanation: We are at the start of  the Second Machine Age.

The First Machine Age, they argue, was the Industrial Revolution that was born along with the steam engine in the late 1700s. This period was “all about power systems to augment human muscle,” explained McAfee in an interview, “and each successive invention in that age delivered more and more power. But they all required humans to make decisions about them.” Therefore, the inventions of this era actually made human control and labor “more valuable and important.” Labor and machines were complementary.

 In the Second Machine Age, though, argues Brynjolfsson, “we are beginning to automate a lot more cognitive tasks, a lot more of the control systems that determine what to use that power for. In many cases today artificially intelligent machines can make better decisions than humans.” So humans and software-driven machines may increasingly be substitutes, not complements. What’s making this possible, the authors argue, are three huge technological advances that just reached their tipping points, advances they describe as “exponential, digital and combinatorial.”

To illustrate “exponential” they retell the story of the king who was so impressed with the man who invented chess that he offered him any reward. The inventor suggested rice to feed his family. He asked the king to simply place a grain of rice on the first square of a chessboard and then have each subsequent square receive twice as many grains as the previous. The emperor agreed until he realized that 63 instances of doubling yields a fantastically big number, even starting with one grain — like 18 quintillion grains of rice, once you finish the second half of the chess board.

The authors compare this second half of the chessboard to Moore’s Law about the relentless doubling of digital computing power about every two years. Unlike the steam engine, which was physical and doubled in performance every 70 years, computers “get better, faster than anything else, ever,” says Brynjolfsson. Now that we’re in the second half of the digital chessboard, you see cars that drive themselves in traffic, Jeopardy-champion supercomputers, flexible factory robots and pocket smartphones that are the equivalent of a supercomputer of just a generation ago.

Now add the spread of the Internet to both people and things — soon everyone on the planet will have a smartphone, and every cash register, airplane engine, student iPad and thermostat will be broadcasting digital data via the Internet. All this data means we can instantly discover and analyze patterns, instantly replicate what is working on a global scale and instantly improve what isn’t working — whether it is eye surgery techniques, teaching fractions or how best to operate a G.E. engine at 30,000 feet. Suddenly, the speed and slope of improvement, they argue, gets very fast and steep.

Combinatorial advances mean you can take Google Maps and combine them with a smartphone app like Waze, through which drivers automatically transmit traffic conditions on their routes by just carrying their phone in their car, and meld both into a GPS system that not only tells you what the best route is to your destination but what the best route now is because it also sees all the traffic everywhere. Instantly, you’re the smartest driver in town.

 Put all these advances together, say the authors, and you can see that our generation will have more power to improve (or destroy) the world than any before, relying on fewer people and more technology. But it also means that we need to rethink deeply our social contracts, because labor is so important to a person’s identity and dignity and to societal stability. They suggest that we consider lowering taxes on human labor to make it cheaper relative to digital labor, that we reinvent education so more people can “race with machines” not against them, that we do much more to foster the entrepreneurship that invents new industries and jobs, and even consider guaranteeing every American a basic income. We’ve got a lot of rethinking to do, they argue, because we’re not only in a recession-induced employment slump. We’re in technological hurricane reshaping the workplace — and it just keeps doubling.

And when there’s finally an AI that can write a coherent sentence poor little Tommy will also be out of a job.  One can pray, can’t one?  Here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Nairobi, Kenya:

She’s a 4-year-old girl named Ida, fragile and shy, and when she was raped by a neighbor boy in September, her family tried to have the attacker arrested.

Yet the only interest the police showed was to ask for a bribe equivalent to $11.50 to make the arrest, the family says. The family didn’t have the money, but perhaps the rapist did because the supposed police investigation stalled.

This kind of police indifference and corruption is a major factor in the impunity that leads to staggering levels of sexual violence in much of the world. A United Nations study released in September of 10,000 men in six countries in Asia and the Pacific found that almost one-quarter acknowledged having raped a woman.

Other studies have reported similar findings. A 2011 study found that 37 percent of men in part of South Africa acknowledged having raped women.

Often the victims, like Ida, are breathtakingly young. Ida lives in the vast, teeming Kibera slum in Nairobi, where she is being raised by a great-uncle and great-aunt, Stephen and Jane, after her parents largely abandoned her. Stephen and Jane are pillars of stability in a troubled area, and they have taken in three street children to raise along with four children of their own.

After Ida’s rape, Jane closed her tiny restaurant for two weeks to get Ida surgery to repair internal injuries. Jane then made five trips to the Kilimani police station that oversees the slum to try to get someone to make an arrest.

In this case, the evidence seemed strong: A neighbor had caught the alleged rapist in the house during the attack, and a police doctor had filled out forms documenting the rape and internal injuries.

Yet the police shrugged and did nothing. Stephen assumes that the perpetrator bribed the police.

After repeated inquiries, the police officers finally threatened to make an arrest in the rape case — not of the young man caught red-handed, but of Stephen and Jane for leaving the girl unattended and vulnerable.

The police station had the right physical infrastructure to deal with sexual violence. It had a separate counter for such cases, staffed by female officers. Posters denounced rape.

Yet Stephen and Jane tried to do the right thing — and then the police, in my presence, shouted at them and threatened to arrest them for their perseverance.

That was a terrifying threat, for who would look after Ida then? Stephen, a dignified man who was heartbroken at what happened to Ida, wilted. He seemed to have lost hope of justice.

What happened to Ida was no anomaly. I followed two other girls, a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old, who both said that they had been raped by a wealthier neighbor with H.I.V. Their families made eight visits to the Kilimani police station in Nairobi, waiting hours at a time, pleading for justice — but nothing ever happened. The families did spot the perpetrator’s wife at the station, perhaps paying a bribe.

On each visit by the family, the police reported that some paper had mysteriously gone missing from the file. When a witness report was needed, the family brought the witness to the police station — and then the police charged her a fee for a piece of blank paper to write her statement on.

I tweeted a photo from the police station, saying the police wouldn’t take action. Soon after the tweet, the police officers’ attitudes miraculously changed, and authorization for an arrest was given. Yet when the police went to make the arrest, the alleged rapist had obviously been tipped off somehow and had fled.

This breakdown in justice is common in much of the world. In many poor countries, the criminal justice system was set up decades ago to protect white colonial families and never really made the transition to serving the entire society. Salaries tend to be low, corruption high, accountability nonexistent — and, as a result, deterrence negligible.

In the United Nations survey, by far the most common reason men cited for raping women and girls was a sense of male entitlement, with explanations like “I wanted her.” Another factor was impunity, for more than two-thirds of men who acknowledged raping said that they had faced no legal consequences.

Attitudes like entitlement are hard to change. Reducing impunity is somewhat easier, and if we need evidence that imposing penalties can reduce the incidence of rape, just look at the United States.

Few people realize that rape has fallen by three-quarters over the last four decades in the United States, according to Justice Department statistics. It’s true that underreporting makes the data not fully reliable, but underreporting is unlikely to be more serious now than in the 1970s.

The reason for the decline in American rape is simple. Most rapes are acquaintance rapes, and a generation ago police often shrugged. (“You were drinking. You were making out with him. You still call it rape?”)

These attitudes still exist in America, rape kits often aren’t tested even after evidence has been properly collected, and plenty of date rapists get away with their crimes. But punishment is still far more likely today than it once was — and that danger restrains men even when they’re tipsy and lusting. If ending the impunity worked to reduce sexual violence in America, it can do the same in other countries.

That may be beginning to happen. After some horrifying rapes, India appears to be taking crimes of sexual violence more seriously in some cases. And here in Kenya, I was following Shining Hope for Communities, a slum-empowerment program in Kibera started by a remarkable young man, Kennedy Odede, who was once a homeless, uneducated street child in Kibera — and then taught himself to read and write, attended Wesleyan University, and now runs programs serving 43,000 slum residents.

Odede operates the Kibera School for Girls, an outstanding elementary school, and he soon found that many girls entering prekindergarten had been raped. To build a safer environment for the girls, he started a system of victim advocates to help push the police to do their jobs, and the group is winning support for its message that “no” means “no” — and that rapists should be punished.

It’s having an impact, offering a model for efforts to combat sexual violence worldwide. I’ll tell you in my next column what happened to Ida’s alleged attacker.

Last but not least we have Mr. Bruni:

Politics boils down to three pronouns: I, you, we. The politician who has them in balance goes a long way.

From the “I” comes the lust for attention necessary to face all the cameras, hear all the clamoring, weather all the commentary. From the “I” comes the yearning to be celebrated and, because celebration often hinges on accomplishment, the drive to get things done. Personal glory and public good dovetail. What we call narcissism overlaps with what we call altruism, neither of which is as tidy as we make it out to be.

“You” matters just as much in this transactional age. A politician must promise measurable improvement to each and every voter’s life. That’s what President Obama was trying to do with his pitch for the Affordable Care Act; he just went way too far. He became utterly fixated on the individual “you,” when the best argument for universal health insurance was and is about the communal us.

“We” is essential. It must be in the mix. A politician who can cast his or her mission as our mission not only finds the cloak in which self-regard is most fetchingly wrapped but also creates the sense of collective purpose that’s vital to progress.

Can Chris Christie do that? Can he fit the “we” into me, me, me?

This question preceded the scandal that enveloped him last week. This question will also survive it, even if the public officials and reporters digging into his role in the lane closures near the George Washington Bridge never find a smoking traffic cone. And that’s because this question strikes to his overarching problem, which isn’t an instance of gridlock but a pattern of grandiosity. While Christie sometimes seems to be fighting for you and for us, he almost always seems to have himself first and foremost in mind. There’s too much “I” in the stew. Its flavor isn’t sufficiently masked or muted.

In his news conference on Thursday he found a way to spell apology with a thousand I’s.

Perhaps he nonetheless managed to assure voters that he hadn’t directed the nightmare on Fort Lee’s streets. His denials couldn’t have been more emphatic, unconditional or expansive. He spoke and spoke and spoke, which made some sense, in that he cast himself as someone volunteering information rather than running from the truth.

But as he spoke and spoke and spoke, the apology sprawled into an odd aria of self-congratulation, and he even praised his own penance.

The incident, he said, didn’t reflect “the environment I’ve worked so hard to achieve.”

“Actions have consequences, and I’m living up to that right now,” he added.

“I am not a focus-group-tested, blow-dried candidate or governor.”

“I am who I am.”

“I am not a bully.”

“It is the rare moment in this office when I raise my voice.”

Self-pity crept in.

“I am humiliated.” “It is heartbreaking to me that I wasn’t told the truth.” “I am a very sad person.” “Betrayed me.” “Betrayed me.” “Betrayed me.”

There was an abundance of self-fascination, a surfeit of “me.”

Of course calling out politicians for being entranced with themselves is like calling out actuaries for being interested in math. Certain professions require certain temperaments. But the lesson of political success and failure is that egoism does best with checks and camouflage, lest one’s career be shortened, one’s ultimate goal unreached. Newt Gingrich didn’t want to exit the House of Representatives as soon as he did, and his life’s plan wasn’t to wind up hosting “Crossfire.” An overblown “I” landed him there.

Bill Clinton’s appetite for adulation may have been almost as keen, but its expression took the form of groveling as often as it did grandstanding. That’s long been his genius: to leaven the boastful with the solicitous. Did he, as a candidate and a president, really feel our pain, or did he just feel the need to have us believe that? It didn’t matter. When that lower lip jutted out and those eyes misted, you wanted to give him a blanket, a binky and your support.

It’s interesting that the most frequently imagined presidential matchup for 2016 is Christie versus Hillary Clinton, because she’s a textbook case in taming what the first President Bush, uncomfortable with the first-person singular, called “the big I.”

Back in 1993, shortly after she and Bill moved into the White House, she appeared in an angelic pose on the cover of this paper’s magazine, for a profile titled “Saint Hillary.” It thrummed with self-satisfaction.

Then she fell. And then, as she picked herself up, she learned. In her bid for a Senate seat, she went on that famous “listening tour,” an exercise in self-effacement devoted to you, you, you. As secretary of state, she assiduously logged (and publicized) all those miles. It was a way of projecting a nose-to-the-grindstone humility, the appearance of which is a cornerstone of her sustained popularity.

Humility comes haltingly to Christie, if it comes at all. There wasn’t a scintilla of it at the 2012 Republican convention. His keynote speech there was broadly disparaged for the way the big I eclipsed the little mentions of Mitt Romney, in whose service it was supposedly being delivered. Chris Wallace, an anchor for Fox News, quipped, “For a moment, I forgot who was the nominee of the party.”

Humility was absent when Christie bragged to Dan Balz of The Washington Post about how many Republican luminaries pleaded with him to get into the 2012 race and save the party. Humility doesn’t factor into his habit, as governor, of having someone trail him to collect video of his trademark confrontations with naysayers so that these exchanges can be uploaded onto YouTube, viral testaments to his vaunted truth telling.

When a politician’s self-promotion scales the Olympian heights that his has scaled, a dangerous message goes out to aides, who assume that ascendance is everything and that victory vindicates anything: browbeating, rule-tweaking, a knot of traffic around the world’s busiest bridge.

Something else happens, too. Or, rather, doesn’t. Real friendships beyond a posse of loyalists aren’t made, though they’re essential. A politician needs not just acolytes and fair-weather allies but also peers who feel real admiration and deep affection and will be there when the storm comes.

It’s unclear, in the early days of this scandal, if Christie has that. Some Republican operatives have been strangely tepid in their assessments and defenses of him. Other Republican governors have been slow to rally around him.

Without enough “you” and “we,” a politician inevitably bumps up against a word that, unlike apology, is correctly spelled with an I.

That’s isolation.

Brooks, Nocera and Bruni

January 7, 2014

In “The Edamame Economy” Bobo babbles that the emergence of boutique hotels reflects a broader trend toward a more experientially rich commercial world.  “Gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “I’m not poor, and neither are most of the people I work and interact with every day. But I don’t know anyone who would spend an extra 200 bucks a night to luxuriate in some dismal hipster boutique hotel. If I were going to buy an experience, it wouldn’t be the experience of throwing away money on a room without a real bathroom door.”  Mr. Nocera has a question:  “Will Digital Networks Ruin Us?”  He says today’s profitable business model could be tomorrow’s disaster. Consider this food for thought.  Mr. Bruni, in “Football’s Devastating Harvest,” says emblematic of yet another brutal season in the N.F.L., the Chiefs-Colts game was at once breathtaking and queasy-making.  Here’s Bobo:

In the age of rail, luxury hotels mimicked European palaces. When rich people arrived at their destination, they wanted to be treated like nobility.

Then in the age of the jet, a new sort of hotel emerged, sleek Hiltons and Sheratons. These hotels offered the comfort of familiarity. You could go around the world and the hotels were largely the same. They were efficient and bland, offering quality service and ease of movement. A business traveler could stay in one of these hotels for days and barely notice anything about the place.

The computer age has brought yet another new kind of hotel: the mass boutique.

Boutique hotels started in the early 1980s in London, with Blakes, and in San Francisco, with the Bedford. These hotels had entirely different goals than the big hotels at the time. Instead of offering familiarity, they offered difference. Instead of offering beige, they offered edginess, art, emotion and a dollop of pretension.

The first boutique hotels were founded by entrepreneurs who seemed more like rock producers or psych professors than corporate executives. Chip Conley founded Joie de Vivre Hospitality in the Bay Area when he was 26. He designed his hotel Phoenix around the personality of Rolling Stone magazine. He later organized his business strategy around Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

At the bottom of the pyramid, Conley’s hotels offer a comfortable bed, but at the top of the pyramid, Conley says that his hotels offer “identity refreshment” and “mass therapy.” As he writes in his book “Peak,” “If we get it right at our boutique hotels, we don’t just satisfy our guests’ physiological, safety, social and esteem needs: We bring them an awareness of self-actualization.”

Boutiques cater to the sort of affluent consumer who is produced by the information economy, which rewards education with money. This is a consumer who is prouder of his cultural discernment than his corporate success; who feels interested in, rather than intimidated by, a hotel room stuffed with cultural signifiers — cerulean sofas or Steichen photos. Boutique hotels hold up a flattering mirror. When guests arrive, they are supposed to feel like they are entering an edgy community of unconventional, discerning people like themselves.

In an age when and Travelocity turn hotel rooms into commodities, these are customers who are willing to pay extra, sometimes a lot extra, for a hotel with sensibility. The boutique Soho Grand in New York is currently offering rooms at $339 a night. The Hilton Garden Inn, a very adequate hotel a couple of blocks away, is charging $139.

Painfully hip boutique hotels used to seem like a fad, but they’ve spread and spread. Over the past few years, they have gone mass. Starwood has planted large, boutiquey W hotels on five continents. Hyatt has Andaz. And as Brooks Barnes reported in The Times’s most recent Sunday Business section, Marriott is creating a chain of mass boutiques, called Edition. When Marriott enters the boutique business, everybody has entered the boutique business.

It seems as if there is an endless supply of middle-class consumers who have boutique identities and aspirations, especially among people in their 20s. Consumers now use hotels differently. They bring their laptops down to the lobby rather than working in their rooms. Fewer people bother to unpack their bags. Therefore, room desks and closets are less important, but having a happening lobby scene is more important. People need a civic space where they can have their contiguous but individualized iPad experiences.

Boutique hotels are, on one level, kind of ridiculous. They are almost invariably too dark throughout, making it hard to read. The bed is often too low. The bathroom door is sometimes a flimsy sliding shutter, sacrificing privacy for style.

But they do exemplify a shift in the consumer market, which you might call the shift from the lima bean economy to the edamame economy. It’s easy to forget how much more boring the marketplace was a few decades ago — more boring cuisine, more boring restaurants, more boring hotels. Recently, there’s been a creative brand explosion, to go along with nichification and segmentation. Companies are much more interested in creating emotional arousal. Hotels, sneakers, iced tea and even ice cream is now marketed to people on the basis of psychographic profiles and the result is a profusion of unusual products and distinctive experiences. Consumers have been educated by the market and now the median level of cultural competence is much higher.

A basic rule of happiness is don’t buy things; buy experiences. The market has taken one commodity product after another and turned it into an emotional experience — even hotel stays. I don’t know how you measure how much better off we are because of that, but we are significantly better off. The world’s a sweeter place when, for an extra 200 bucks a night, you can lodge like Afrojack.

Gawd, he’s a pretentious asshole.  The world’s a MUCH sweeter place if you have a job that pays enough to house and feed you and your children.  Schmuck.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

The most important book I read in 2013 was Jaron Lanier’s “Who Owns the Future?” Though it was published in May, I came to it late in the year. But this turned out to be fortuitous timing. With unemployment seemingly stalled out at around 7 percent in the aftermath of the Great Recession, with the leak of thousands of National Security Agency documents making news almost daily, with the continuing stories about the erosion of privacy in the digital economy, “Who Owns the Future?” puts forth a kind of universal theory that ties all these things together. It also puts forth some provocative, unconventional ideas for ensuring that the inevitable dominance of software in every corner of society will be healthy instead of harmful.

Lanier has an unusual authority to criticize the digital economy: He was there, more or less, at the creation. Among (many) other things, he founded the first company to sell virtual reality products. Another of his start-ups was sold to Google. As a consultant, he has had assignments with “Wal-Mart, Fannie Mae, major banks and hedge funds,” as he notes in “Who Owns the Future?” But unlike most of his fellow technologists, he eventually came to feel that the rise of digital networks was no panacea.

On the contrary: “What I came away with from having access to these varied worlds was a realization that they were all remarkably similar,” he writes. “The big players often gained benefits from digital networks to an amazing degree, but they were also constrained, even imprisoned, by the same dynamics.”

Over time, the same network efficiencies that had given them their great advantages would become the instrument of their failures. In the financial services industry, it led to the financial crisis. In the case of Wal-Mart, its adoption of technology to manage its supply chain at first reaped great benefits, but over time it cost competitors and suppliers hundreds of thousands of jobs, thus “gradually impoverishing its own customer base,” as Lanier put it to me.

The N.S.A.? It developed computer technology that could monitor the entire world — and, in the process, lost control of the contractors it employed. As for Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon et al., well, in Lanier’s view, it’s only a matter of time before their advantages, too, disintegrate.

There are two additional components to Lanier’s thesis. The first is that the digital economy has done as much as any single thing to hollow out the middle class. (When I asked him about the effect of globalization, he said that globalization was “just one form of network efficiency.” See what I mean about a universal theory?) His great example here is Kodak and Instagram. At its height, writes Lanier “Kodak employed more than 140,000 people.” Yes, Kodak made plenty of mistakes, but look at what is replacing it: “When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people.”

Which leads nicely to Lanier’s final big point: that the value of these new companies comes from us. “Instagram isn’t worth a billion dollars just because those 13 employees are extraordinary,” he writes. “Instead, its value comes from the millions of users who contribute to the network without being paid for it.” He adds, “Networks need a great number of people to participate in them to generate significant value. But when they have them, only a small number of people get paid. This has the net effect of centralizing wealth and limiting overall economic growth.” Thus, in Lanier’s view, is income inequality also partly a consequence of the digital economy.

It is Lanier’s radical idea that people should get paid whenever their information is used. He envisions a different kind of digital economy, in which creators of content — whether a blog post or a Facebook photograph — would receive micropayments whenever that content was used. A digital economy that appears to give things away for free — in return for being able to invade the privacy of its customers for commercial gain — isn’t free at all, he argues.

Lanier’s ideas raise as many questions as they answer, and he makes no pretense to having it all figured out. “I know some of this will turn out to be wrong,” he told me. “But I just don’t know which part.”

Still his ideas about reformulating the economy — creating what he calls a “humanistic economy” — offer much food for thought. Lanier wants to create a dynamic where digital networks expand the pie rather than shrink it, and rebuild the middle class instead of destroying it.

“If Google and Facebook were smart,” he said, “they would want to enrich their own customers.” So far, he adds, Silicon Valley has made “the stupid choice” — to grow their businesses at the expense of their own customers.

Lanier’s message is that it can’t last. And it won’t.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

For a while he didn’t move. It wasn’t clear that he could. He was stretched out on his stomach, a few concerned people bending over him, a few others kneeling beside him, as if in prayer, which they may have been. It would have been an apt response.

Seconds ticked by. Still no movement. Just a television replay of what had gone wrong: his head apparently whipping into another player’s leg as the two of them tumbled — no, hurtled — out of bounds, where he remained, a few feet beyond the sideline.

Would he get up? Or would the cart come out? Those of us who’d watched many a previous football game were all too familiar with that dread ritual, when a player unable to walk off the field is instead carried off, on a backboard and a tiny vehicle that might as well be a hearse, in terms of the chill it sends through you.

This game, a playoff match on Saturday between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Indianapolis Colts, was turning into one with too many chills. This player, a star cornerback for the Chiefs named Brandon Flowers, wasn’t its first casualty.

“They’ve already lost Jamaal Charles to a concussion,” said an announcer, referring to the team’s star running back, who’d been forced to leave after only the sixth play of the first half. It was now early in the second half, and the announcer was filling time while Flowers lay motionless. He did so by going through the body count, mentioning yet another Chiefs standout, the wide receiver Donnie Avery, who’d been knocked out of the game. Avery, like Charles, had suffered a concussion.

At last Flowers sat up. Then he stood, but only to be escorted to the locker room for a medical evaluation. It turned out that he, too, had a concussion, and was done for the day.

The announcer remarked that there’d been a “big-time turnaround in the feel of this game,” in which the Chiefs’ lead was collapsing and the aggregate injuries were something of “a momentum-buster.” What clumsy but telling words. Three men stagger off, their elimination underscoring the plague of serious injuries in this violent sport, and the main takeaway is about momentum? That’s the National Football League for you. Broken bodies matter mostly in terms of a broken rhythm.

The Chiefs-Colts contest, on the first weekend of the postseason playoffs, was one of the most thrilling, spectacular football games I’ve ever seen. Somehow, some way, with bursts of luck and feats of extraordinary athleticism, the Colts rallied from a 28-point deficit and staged a comeback that will go into the history books, winning 45 to 44.

But it was also one of the most discomfiting football games I’ve ever seen, a blunt reminder of how much pain we fans endorse in the service of our pleasure. All in all five players for the Chiefs went down, exiting before the end of the fourth quarter, and the team’s defeat was inextricable from its physical devastation. In the N.F.L., the spoils often go to the squad that needs the fewest X-rays, crutches, sutures and surgeries.

It has been a sickening season that way. At least eight of the league’s 32 teams were without their first-string quarterbacks before October was over. Some of the quarterbacks who went the distance seemed to do so mainly because their teams’ entire architecture had been designed around their protection. The Denver Broncos, a favorite to go to the Super Bowl, did many things right, but none righter than treating Peyton Manning as if he were a Fabergé egg.

So many other players cracked. Before mid-December, 41 had fallen to season-ending knee injuries, in contrast to just 32 the previous year and 25 the year before that, as Ben Volin reported in The Boston Globe.

It’s difficult to say definitively whether significant injuries over all are on the rise, and it doesn’t matter. They’re too prevalent, period. And the N.F.L. needs to go far beyond its efforts thus far to assess and reconsider anything that might be affecting player safety: what kind of equipment, head to toe, they wear; the give of the turf on which they play; the way they train in the off-season. Maybe there should be weight limits. There should certainly be more rest between games and there should probably be fewer of them, though there’s been talk of the league’s moving in the opposite direction.

The status quo won’t do. It’s untenable. It’s arguably unconscionable. On Saturday, the sight of a crumpled Chief with distraught teammates hovering over him became so common that the announcer remarked, in a voice too glib, on the “injury bug” that was “contagious for Kansas City at the wrong time now.”

There’s never a right time. And it’s no little bug.

Bread and circuses.  Except this time around there’s no bread, just circuses.

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

January 5, 2014

In “DeBlasio’s Long Odds” The Putz thinks he can ‘splain why liberals won’t be able to win their war on inequality.  It’s a typical Putzian screed.  “John Murphy” from NH had this to say about it:  “Funny how your “most research indicates” link goes to an article completely lacking citations on a site full of conservative-slanted articles and not, say, to actual research papers.”  What a surprise…  MoDo has a question in “The Commish, the 2nd Time Around:”  Can Bill Bratton, the old and new police commissioner, stop the “Bonfire of the Vanities” predicted by the Bloombergians?  In “Compromise: Not a 4-Letter Word: The Moustache of Wisdom says there is a sensible path forward on America’s biggest challenges if Congress would only do the right thing and take it.  Right, Tommy.  You go and explain that to Louie Gohmert.  I’ll wait…  Mr. Kristof gives us “First Up, Mental Illness.  Next Topic Is Up to You.”  He has a question for Times readers: What neglected topics would you like to see explored in 2014?  In “One Marine’s Dying Wish” Mr. Bruni says the military found dishonor in Hal Faulkner’s homosexuality. He didn’t want that senseless verdict to survive him.  Here, FSM help us, is The Putz:

This much can be said for Bill de Blasio’s inauguration, which featured a concentration of left-wing agitprop unseen since the last time Pete Seeger occupied a stage alone: If the waning years of Barack Obama’s presidency are going to be defined by a liberal crusade against income inequality, there’s no more fitting place to kick it off than New York City.

It’s fitting because a glance at New York’s ever-richer 1 percent, its priced-out middle class and its majestic skyscrapers soaring above pockets of squalor makes it easy enough to understand left-wing populism’s appeal.

But it’s fitting, as well, because New York also illustrates the tensions that make the war on inequality hard to wage, and suggests reasons to question whether it’s actually worth fighting in the first place.

Those tensions start with the fact that despite a run of non-Democratic mayors, the five boroughs have hardly been a laboratory for Social Darwinists in the last two decades. Instead, de Blasio’s “tale of two cities,” one ever-richer and one struggling to keep up, has been unspooling in a liberal metropolis in a liberal state surrounded by a mostly liberal region, where many obvious anti-inequality policy levers are already being pulled.

This doesn’t mean inequality is immune to policy responses, especially when you leap to the national level — a leap, of course, that liberal populists want to see de Blasio’s message make.

But the new mayor’s political coalition also provides a clue as to why a comprehensive policy response may never actually be tried. In his primary upset, de Blasio enjoyed strong backing from the city’s college-educated upper middle class. He even did slightly better among voters making between $100,000 and $200,000 than he did among the poor.

In a way, this shows the potential breadth of populism’s appeal. But while upper-middle-class voters are happy to support higher taxes on 1 percenters — not least because they’re tired of trying to compete with them for schools and real estate — they don’t necessarily want a program that would require their own taxes to rise substantially.

And this is a problem for the populist left, because to build the kind of welfare state — European, Scandinavian — that seems to really level incomes, you need lots of tax dollars from the non-rich. Yet the current Democratic coalition has been built on a promise to never raise taxes on anyone making under $250,000 … or maybe $400,000 … or possibly $500,000, the threshold de Blasio chose.

That promise has made it safe for many well-off voters, in New York and elsewhere, to cast votes for liberal populism. But it’s also made it impossible for the populist war on inequality to ever actually be won.

But should we even want that war to be fought? Here, too, New York’s experience raises difficult questions for egalitarians. Of all the arguments for reducing inequality, the most potent is the claim that a more unequal society is one with fewer opportunities to rise, and that a hardening of class lines in America is intimately connected to growing fortunes at the top.

This makes some intuitive sense, and there is international data — dubbed “the Great Gatsby curve” by the economist Alan Krueger — suggesting a link between inequality and immobility. But within the United States, that link turns out to be much less readily apparent.

Using data from an ambitious research project on social mobility, the Manhattan Institute’s Scott Winship and the Heritage Foundation’s Donald Schneider recently tried to recreate the “Gatsby curve” for U.S. job markets. Instead, they found little-to-no correlation between inequality and mobility across different regions of the country.

And New York illustrates their point, because the city’s extreme income inequality hasn’t led to extreme immobility. In fact, compared with nationwide trends, New Yorkers born into poverty have an above-average chance of rising into the middle class. (And New Yorkers born into affluence have an above-average chance of dropping to the bottom.)

Now it’s true that whatever the link between mobility and equality, there are potential policy moves — an expansion of housing stock, for instance, to make expensive cities more affordable — that would probably address both issues at once.

De Blasio’s signature proposal, universal pre-K, is a more ambiguous case. Most research indicates that early childhood education doesn’t have the benefits to children’s prospects that its advocates suggest. But it’s possible the program could increase the mobility of parents, by lowering costs and stress for two-earner and single-parent households.

But there’s also a pessimistic scenario, in which the growing cost of New York’s existing welfare state means that de Blasio’s crusade ultimately just devolves into interest-group featherbedding, in which the rich are squeezed to benefit a well-compensated public sector and preserve bureaucracies that ought to be reformed.

And that outcome — a populism that marginally inconveniences the richest without meaningfully changing life for anyone else — would be less a model for the post-Obama Democrats than a cautionary tale.

Now that we’ve survived that it’s time to plow through MoDo:

Bill Bratton’s biggest problem right now might not be stop-and-frisk.

It might be stop-and-sulk.

Given a new mayor who catapulted into office by castigating the police, given a City Council that passed two punitive bills related to the police and racial profiling, given the prospect of federal oversight on stop-and-frisk, given the overshadowing of the stunning drop in crime by the open sore of racial insensitivity, New York police may decide to engage in, as police call it, de-policing.

If morale sinks too low, one former New York City police official suggests, officers may not go after criminals “in the most aggressive fashion.”

“Right now, police in New York are not happy,” the new commissioner conceded in his conference room at police headquarters Friday evening, surrounded by walls of video screens tracking crime around the city. “They’re frustrated because their good work really did get banged around in the campaign.”

There was a record decline in crime and a record increase in tourism, Bratton said, and “cops aren’t feeling the residual benefit of that.”

He said “the most angst” was being caused by a City Council bill expanding the ability to sue over racial profiling by officers, because police see it as a risk to themselves and their families.

He said New York has “a crisis of confidence on the part of the cops about what it is that we can do” and “a crisis of confidence in the public about what the cops have been doing.”

Bratton, always very popular with the police who work for him, has been through it before. When he went to head the L.A. force in 2002, he said, police were so demoralized by cascading troubles and bad leadership that some sank into a “drive by and wave” mode.

While diplomatically praising his old rival Ray Kelly, Bratton also noted that there were missed opportunities to curb stop-and-frisk.

“The shame of it,” he said, “is it probably could have been addressed a year or two years ago but for the intransigence of Mayor Bloomberg. I hesitate to describe it as intransigence because I really do believe that both Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly, both good men, both committed to keeping this city safe, really deeply believed that the reason crime was going down, the reason there was less gun violence, the reason there were fewer guns being taken off the street, was because of the increasing numbers of stop-question-frisk.

“And eventually because of that unwillingness to step back from that posture, it became a rallying cry for a number of the mayoral candidates, including Mayor de Blasio, who was able to most successfully use it as a platform.”

Police, he said, “need clear guidelines, clear guardrails, and we don’t have that right now.” They are comfortable re-engaging, he said, when they have those guardrails.

In Bloomberg’s final years as mayor, Bratton said, “Cops themselves felt that they were in a no-win position. They had an administration, Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner Kelly, who were demanding more and more and more. And the cops themselves felt, you know, it’s too much. And the community was saying it’s too much. It’s like a doctor giving too much chemotherapy: ‘Doctor I’m feeling better but you’re giving me all this chemo and I’m feeling worse again.’ ”

In L.A. in 2002, Bratton faced a crisis where morale was low after a corruption scandal and after the city was crowned the murder capital of America, and an inspector general was on hand for oversight. “We got the cops out of their cars,” he said. “They got back to making arrests. They got back to doing stop-question-frisk. But they were also doing it in a way that was focused.”

His initiatives focusing on gangs and crime data, he asserted, allowed the police an appropriate structure “so that every black kid that was wearing a long white T-shirt with shorts wasn’t thought of as a potential suspect.”

The last time Bill Bratton became police commissioner of New York, in 1994, his mission was to take back the city. Now his mission is to back off — to rein in the force enough so that minorities do not feel hounded. The last time he was Top Cop, his boss was Mr. Law and Order, and Bratton was the tip of Rudy Giuliani’s spear. This time, he’s working for a liberal populist mayor who got elected thrashing the excesses of stop-and-frisk, and he’s supervising police officers who are trepidatious about working for a man who won office by stoking the fires of public opinion against them. (Dante de Blasio did a potent ad for his father noting that he might be a likely candidate for stop-and-frisk.)

Trying to help Christine Quinn (tepidly) and stop de Blasio during the mayoral primary, Michael Bloomberg’s aides fed the paranoia that under de Blasio, New York would flame into “Bonfire of the Vanities.” Bratton must be the affirmative answer to all the jittery New Yorkers asking “Is it safe?,” fearing that fiends are going to start climbing out of manholes if the new mayor goes all flower power on crime. And he must be the affirmative answer to the minority community’s demand for more sensitivity.

After 20 years of news conferences touting crime declines and a safer city, if crime stops going down — let alone if it goes up — it will be a political catastrophe for City Hall.

Even for a master at shaping perception like Bratton, it’s going to require exquisite balance. Skeptics on both sides of the spectrum, from Al Sharpton to former Mayor Bloomberg, suggest the changes on stop-and-frisk may be cosmetic.

On the eve of leaving office, Bloomberg, defensive about the scar on his legacy, noted to Capital New York that in L.A. Bratton — considered the godfather of the sort of aggressive policing tools that have come under fire — was just as much a proponent of stop-and-frisk as Kelly was. “Bratton did more stop and frisks per capita than Kelly did,” Bloomberg said. “They’ll call it ‘frisk and stop’ instead of stop-and-frisk.”

Bratton mulled that his specialty had been coming in to lead police departments “in total crisis” and, in a way, he violated his own philosophy by following someone so successful.

But he believes he can resolve the problems with stop-and-frisk and shaky morale. “I didn’t come back to New York to fail,” he said flatly, dapper as ever in a Hermès tie with elephants and a blue Rolex watch his wife gave him.

Bratton said he wants to bring in a language expert, as he did back in 1994, to train police on the best ways to use language to “calm down incidents” by being respectful rather than ratchet them up by being confrontational.

Noting that you have to use stop-and-frisk “with skill,” he said: “We have an expression in policing that it’s not the use of force that gets cops in trouble, it’s the use of language.”

He said an officer who says, “Sir, can I speak to you?,” rather than “Hey, you, get over here,” will be more productive. They also need exit strategies, he said, to depart from encounters without “demeaning” people.

He knows he has a super-healthy ego but says it just reflects confidence. He notes that his famously fractious relationship with Giuliani — Rudy grew envious of Bratton’s glowing press as “America’s Top Cop” and forced him out — taught him a good lesson. He plans to meet with Mayor de Blasio once a week — “no matter what” — to encourage transparency, so that gossip doesn’t “fester.”

He said everything was going well so far, even though they are only on the third day of their relationship.

His experience with Rudy and two mayors in L.A. has taught him this: “You’ve got to keep them informed. Try to have no surprises, if you will.”

With that, he headed off through the snowy streets for a meeting with the mayor.

Next up we’ve got The Moustache of Wisdom:

Former Senator Alan Simpson likes to say that if you can’t learn to compromise on issues without compromising yourself, you should not be in Congress, be in business or get married. It is amazing how many people violate that rule, but especially in Congress and especially among the Tea Party types, where calling someone a “deal maker” is now the ultimate put down. What makes it crazier is that in American education, innovation and commerce today, “collaboration” is being taught and rewarded as the best way to do anything big, important and complex. Indeed, in Silicon Valley, a “collaborator” means someone with whom you’re building something great. In D.C., it means someone committing political treason by working with the other party. And that is why Silicon Valley is now the turbo-engine of our economy and D.C. is the dead hand.

To be sure, in politics compromise is not a virtue in and of itself. There are questions of true principle — civil rights, for instance — where compromise might kill the principled choice. But there has been an inflation of “principles” lately that is inhibiting compromise. A certain tax rate or retirement age is not a principle. It’s an interest that needs to be balanced against others. Today, we would be best served in meeting our biggest challenges by adopting a hybrid of the best ideas of left and right — and the fact that we can’t is sapping our strength.

For instance, on the debt/spending issue, Congress should be borrowing money at these unusually low rates to invest in a 10-year upgrade of our crumbling infrastructure (roads, bridges, telecom, ports, airports and rail lines) and in a huge funding increase for our national laboratories, research universities and institutes of health, which are the gardens for so many start-ups. Together, such an investment would stimulate sustained employment, innovation and the wealth creation to pay for it.

But this near-term investment should be paired with long-term entitlement reductions, defense cuts and tax reform that would be phased in gradually as the economy improves, so we do not add to the already heavy fiscal burden on our children, deprive them of future investment resources or leave our economy vulnerable to unforeseen shocks, future recessions or the stresses that are sure to come when all the baby boomers retire. President Obama has favored such a hybrid, but it was shot down by the Tea Party wing, before we could see if he could really sell it to his base.

We should exploit our new natural gas bounty, but only by pairing it with the highest environmental extraction rules and a national, steadily rising, renewable energy portfolio standard that would ensure that natural gas replaces coal — not solar, wind or other renewables. That way shale gas becomes a bridge to a cleaner energy future, not just an addiction to a less dirty, climate-destabilizing fossil fuel.

In some cities, teachers’ unions really are holding up education reform. But we need to stop blaming teachers alone. We also have a parent problem: parents who do not take an interest in their children’s schooling or set high standards. And we have a student problem: students who do not understand the connection between their skills and their life opportunities and are unwilling to work to today’s global standards. Reform requires a hybrid of both teacher reform and a sustained — not just one speech — national campaign to challenge parents and create a culture of respect and excitement for learning. Obama has failed to use his unique bully pulpit to lead such a campaign.

Finally, the merger of globalization and the information-technology revolution has shrunk the basis of the old middle class — the high-wage, middle-skilled job. Increasingly, there are only high-wage, high-skilled jobs. This merger of globalization and I.T. has put capitalism — and its core engine of creative destruction — on steroids. That’s why Republicans are wrong when they oppose raising minimum wages and expanding national health care. These kinds of social safety nets make the free market possible; otherwise people won’t put up with creative destruction on steroids.

But it is capitalism, start-ups, risk-taking and entrepreneurship that make these safety nets affordable, which is why we need more tax incentives for start-ups, the substitutions of carbon taxes for payroll and corporate taxes, and more cuts to regulations that burden business. Unfortunately, promotion of risk-taking and risk-takers is disappearing from the Democratic Party agenda. Its energy and excitement is focused much more today on wealth redistribution than wealth creation. On immigration, Senate Democrats and Republicans forged a sensible hybrid solution, but Tea Partiers in the House are blocking it.

These hybrid solutions are not how to split the difference. They’re how to make a difference. But they only get forged if Republican leaders take on the Tea Party — which transformed the G.O.P. into a far-right party, uninterested in governing — and remake the G.O.P. into a center-right party again. If that happened, I’m certain that a second-term Obama, who is much more center-left than the ridiculous G.O.P. caricatures, would meet them in the middle. Absent that, we’re going to drift, unable to address effectively any of our biggest challenges or opportunities.

We’ll try to draw the veil of charity over the fact that he started off by invoking Simpson.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Those of us in the pundit world tend to blather on about what happened yesterday, while often ignoring what happens every day. We stir up topics already on the agenda, but we falter at calling attention to crucial-but-neglected issues.

So here’s your chance to tell us what we’re missing. I invite readers to suggest issues that deserve more attention in 2014. Make your suggestions on my blog, I hope to quote from some of your ideas in a future column.

My own suggestion for a systematically neglected issue: mental health. One-quarter of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder, including depression, anorexia, post-traumatic stress disorder and more, according to the National Institutes of Health. Such disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada, the N.I.H. says.

A parent with depression. A lover who is bipolar. A child with an eating disorder. A brother who returned from war with P.T.S.D. A sister who is suicidal.

All across America and the world, families struggle with these issues, but people are more likely to cry quietly in bed than speak out. These mental health issues pose a greater risk to our well-being than, say, the Afghan Taliban or Al Qaeda terrorists, yet in polite society there is still something of a code of silence around these topics.

We in the news business have devoted vast coverage to political battles over health care, deservedly, but we don’t delve enough into underlying mental health issues that are crucial to national well-being.

Indeed, when the news media do cover mental health, we do so mostly in extreme situations such as a mass shooting. That leads the public to think of mental disorders as dangerous, stigmatizing those who are mentally ill and making it harder for them to find friends or get family support.

In fact, says an Institute of Medicine report, the danger is “greatly exaggerated” in the public mind. The report concluded: “although findings of many studies suggest a link between mental illnesses and violence, the contribution of people with mental illnesses to overall rates of violence is small.”

Put simply, the great majority of people who are mentally ill are not violent and do not constitute a threat — except, sometimes, to themselves. Every year, 38,000 Americans commit suicide, and 90 percent of them are said to suffer from mental illness.

One study found that anorexia is by far the most deadly psychiatric disorder, partly because of greatly elevated suicide risk.

Mental illness is also linked to narcotics and alcoholism, homelessness, parenting problems and cycles of poverty. One study found that 55 percent of American infants in poverty are raised by mothers with symptoms of depression, which impairs child rearing.

So if we want to tackle a broad range of social pathologies and inequities, we as a society have to break taboos about mental health. There has been progress, and news organizations can help accelerate it. But too often our coverage just aggravates the stigma and thereby encourages more silence.

The truth is that mental illness is not hopeless, and people recover all the time. Consider John Nash, the Princeton University mathematics genius who after a brilliant early career then tumbled into delusions and involuntary hospitalization — captured by the book and movie “A Beautiful Mind.” Nash spent decades as an obscure, mumbling presence on the Princeton campus before regaining his mental health and winning the Nobel Prize for economics.

Although treatments are available, we often don’t provide care, so the mentally ill disproportionately end up in prison or on the streets.

One example of a cost-effective approach employs a case worker to help mentally ill people leaving a hospital or shelter as they adjust to life in the outside world. Randomized trials have found that this support dramatically reduces subsequent homelessness and hospitalization.

Researchers found that the $6,300 cost per person in the program was offset by $24,000 in savings because of reduced hospitalization. In short, the program more than paid for itself. But we as a society hugely underinvest in mental health services.

Children in particular don’t get treated nearly often enough. The American Journal of Psychiatry reports that of children ages 6 to 17 who need mental health services, 80 percent don’t get help. Racial and ethnic minorities are even more underserved.

So mental health gets my vote as a major neglected issue meriting more attention. It’s not sexy, and it doesn’t involve Democrats and Republicans screaming at each other, but it is a source of incalculable suffering that can be remedied.

Now it’s your turn to suggest neglected issues for coverage in 2014. I’ll be back with a report.

And last but not least we get to Mr. Bruni, writing from Fort Lauderdale:

We don’t get any say about the kind of world we’re born into — about whether it’s prepared for the likes of us, whether it will open its arms. Hal Faulkner certainly didn’t get the world he deserved. It was needlessly cruel to him, senselessly judgmental. For the most part, he made peace with that.

But over the last few months, with cancer spreading fast through his body and time running out, his thoughts turned to one aspect of that landscape that he could perhaps revisit, one wrinkle he might be able to revise, a wrong he had a chance of righting before his death.

Back in 1956, when he was 22, he was discharged from the Marines after more than three years of proud service. There were no real blots on his record. No complaints of incompetence or laziness or insubordination. There was only this: A man with whom Hal had spent some off-duty time informed Hal’s commanding officer that Hal was gay. The commanding officer suspected that this was true and, on that basis, determined that Hal had to go. The discharge was classified as “other than honorable.”

“It wrecked me,” Hal told me when I visited him on Friday at his home here on the 16th floor of a high-rise with a panoramic view of the Atlantic. The morning was gloriously sunny, but tears streamed down his cheeks. Although more than half a century has passed since that harsh judgment — he’s 79 now — it has always stayed with him, a tight, stubborn knot of sadness and anger.

“They gave up on me,” he said, referring to the Marines. “I never forget it.” He was haunted in particular by those three words — “other than honorable” — and wanted more than anything to have them excised from his epitaph. That became his dying wish: that those words not outlive him.

Before federal law was changed in 2011, more than 110,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual people were discharged from the United States military over time because of their sexual orientation. And until the 1990s, when the policy tweak known as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” vaguely softened the prohibition against gays in the armed services, it was common for such discharges to be dishonorable ones that barred gay veterans from receiving any benefits and sometimes disqualified them from civilian jobs they later sought.

But now that the military accepts gays, there is also a process that permits those who were dishonorably discharged to appeal for reclassifications of those dismissals as honorable. A military spokesman said last week that he didn’t know how many veterans had sought to take advantage of it, or with what success. But Hal caught wind of it, and knew that he had to try.

He grew up on a cattle ranch in northern Florida, in a strict Southern Baptist family. He was one of eight children. His father died when he was 7, and his family struggled financially afterward. Although Hal (a nickname for Alfred) graduated from high school, college wasn’t in the cards.

He enlisted in 1953 and attended boot camp in South Carolina from June to August, “the hottest months of the year,” as he said in an email in September to OutServe-SLDN, an advocacy group for gay service members. He was telling them his story in the hopes of rallying them to his cause.

He rose in the Marines from private first class to corporal and then to sergeant, and he landed a plum assignment in the Philippines. “I would have ascended to the top,” he told me. “And yet I couldn’t be what I wanted to be.”

He prospered nonetheless. In a company that sold heavy construction and road-making equipment, he worked his way up to an executive sales position. “I helped build Walt Disney World,” he said.

But he grew increasingly conflicted about his hand in paving so much of Florida and switched courses, joining a firm that made tools and technology for guarding against environmental degradation.

He lived well: expensive cars, world travel, a collection of Native American art.

But the bigotry that ended his military career followed him beyond that point, and so did the fear of it. He lost another treasured job, he said, because of his sexual orientation. And from the 1950s through at least the 1970s, he felt that financial security and success hinged on a certain degree of secrecy. Had he been more open about being gay, he said: “I wouldn’t be here today. I’d probably be on the street.”

It wasn’t until 2005 that he finally brought Charles, his longtime partner and “the love of my life,” to a big family gathering. A few years later, Charles died, and Hal now lives alone, with round-the-clock help from a home health care attendant.

When he received a diagnosis of cancer in his lungs, liver and adrenal glands a year ago, he was given about six months to live. He’s at least 50 pounds thinner than he once was and moves through his apartment on a tiny scooter. He’s almost deaf, his speech is labored and his thoughts are sometimes confused. To piece together his story, I relied heavily on two nieces who visit him regularly, Michelle and Deborah, and on Anne Brooksher-Yen, the New York lawyer who took on his discharge appeal.

The case came to her only two months ago, when doctors were saying that Hal might have only weeks left. She was racing the clock. She pressed the military for an expedited decision. It arrived in a letter in mid-December, and she traveled all the way to Fort Lauderdale for a gathering on Friday afternoon at which the letter was presented to Hal.

John Gillespie, a member of OutServe-SLDN’s board of directors, traveled here, too, from Mississippi, and he arranged for two local Marines, in uniform, to be on hand to congratulate Hal, who’d been told what the letter said and would now get a special moment to savor it.

“He lived his entire adult life with this shame and this stain on his honor,” John said to me, explaining why he insisted on creating that moment. “The world has changed so much that with the stroke of a pen, that stain and that shame are gone.”

At the gathering, in a penthouse apartment a few floors above Hal’s, he was given a red Marine cap, but when he tried to put it on, he screamed. There are painful nodules on his scalp from the rapidly spreading cancer.

“They hurt so bad,” he said to John, Anne, his two nieces and several friends from the building. But he wasn’t complaining. He was making clear that he wasn’t being discourteous by not wearing the gift.

John read from the letter, including its assurance that Hal’s military record would “be corrected to show that he received an honorable discharge.” When Hal took the letter from him, he didn’t hold it so much as knead it, pressing tighter and tighter, maybe because he was visibly fighting tears.

“I don’t have much longer to live,” he said, “but I shall always remember it.” He thanked Anne. He thanked his nieces. He thanked the Marines. He even thanked people in the room whom he had no reason to thank.

Someone went off to mix him a Scotch-and-soda, and he finally gave in. He sobbed.

“It’s often said that a man doesn’t cry,” he said. “I am a Marine and I am a man. So please forgive me.”

His remarks hung there, because he’d used the present tense. Am a Marine. And because he was saying he was sorry, this veteran whose country owed him an apology for too long.


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