What If Oprah-Mania Is Really Just a Media Phenomenon?

by Jim Geraghty

From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

What If Oprah-Mania Is Really Just a Media Phenomenon?

Hey, remember last week when it seemed like there was this overwhelming appetite for a presidential campaign by Oprah Winfrey? It turns out that only a small percentage of folks thought that was such a good idea.

Fifty-nine percent of survey respondents said Winfrey should not run for president, compared to 24 percent who said she should. Seventeen percent said they did not know or had no opinion.

If the election were held today, Winfrey would lead Trump 40 percent to 38 percent, within the poll’s plus or minus 2-percentage point margin of error.

“If you were watching cable news the Monday after the Golden Globes, you would have thought the numbers would say 99 percent of Americans want her to run,” said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture at Syracuse University, in a Tuesday interview. “Certainly polls have their limitations, but these numbers don’t quite indicate that degree of enthusiasm.”

Interestingly, the early numbers suggest Oprah wouldn’t be a slam-dunk to win the Democratic nomination after all, depending upon who her top rival is.

In head-to-head primary matchups with a handful of possible Democratic 2020 contenders, Winfrey performed best against New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand among Democrats, leading her 44 percent to 23 percent. She also leads Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren 39 percent to 35 percent. The poll found Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) would beat Winfrey, 46 percent to 37 percent. But former Vice President Joe Biden would beat Winfrey by a larger margin, 54 percent to 31 percent, among Democrats.

This kind of a wild disconnect between the media’s perspective and that of the larger public doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The irony is that the numbers on Oprah enthusiasm reverse the traditional narrative about a shallow, vacuous, celebrity-obsessed general public and a serious, deep-thinking, policy and detail-focused news media. What if it’s the other way around? What if the public wants a more serious discussion about government policies and their tangible consequences, and less fluffy discussion and debate about charismatic familiar faces?

When David Broder wrote with sadness about the death of columnist Robert Novak, he wrote that Novak and his colleagues of past eras had been brought to Washington by “by editors who had a passionate commitment to covering Congress and politics as if the decisions being debated really mattered.” He contended that good political journalism meant “’getting down in the weeds,’ really understanding the personal dynamics of a Ways and Means subcommittee or the ambitions of the lieutenant governor of Texas.”

I have this nagging feeling that a decent percentage of today’s political journalists don’t want to actually write about politics, and that they really want to write the kind of glossy celebrity profiles that we’re used to seeing in places like Vanity Fair, GQ, Vogue, and maybe even People or Us Weekly. I noticed last year that a glossy profile of Kirsten Gillibrand in Vogue couldn’t bring itself to really look at the senator’s record and left readers with at least three glaringly false impressions – that Gillibrand is an economic centrist, an iconoclast, and a campaigning powerhouse with cross-party appeal.

Look, you read this newsletter, so you know I enjoy writing about Star Wars and Twin Peaks and the Jets and lots of “fun stuff” in life. Not everything written about politics has to be as detail-heavy as Congressional Quarterly or Governing magazine. But the disconnect on Oprah suggests that a chunk of the American people are not automatically enraptured by every famous celebrity who flirts with a political campaign… unlike, say, bored political reporters who want to write about someone glamorous and exciting.

Wednesday links

by debbywitt

January 17 is Ben Franklin’s birthday - bio, quotes, videos, his 200 synonyms for drunk, the bodies found in his basement, and more.

Alexa, What Are You Doing With My Family’s Personal Info?

How to Build an Igloo.

Gorgeous X-Ray Photographs of Plants and Animals.

For Al Capone’s birthday, here’s the story of that time he bought large blocks of stock in miniature golf construction companies.

Method of Women’s Self Defense: Vintage Photos From 1906 Illustrate Modes for Warding Off a Street Bully or Foul.

ICYMI, Tuesday’s links are here, and include why toll-free numbers start with 800, the ultimate paper airplane (a paper Boeing 777), why gadgets are called “doohickeys”, the anniversary of prohibition in the United States, and why tequila is good for you. 

Infamous Trump Meeting: Small Example of a Larger Trend

by Jonah Goldberg

Response To...

In Infamous Meeting, Trump Spoke ...

Pretty much everything Rich writes below is reasonable. And I think his concluding paragraph is entirely fair:

Anyway, I believe the simplest explanation for most Trump controversies is that he’s being crude and thoughtless, and that applies here. The sh**house controversy has been longer-lasting than most, now on its fifth day, but by the end of week, we’ll be on to something else.

Except for one thing: It’s not entirely clear to me that Trump was being “thoughtless.” He may have made a bad calculation. There are only two possibilities. The first is that he thought the comments wouldn’t be leaked — a bizarre notion, not just because there’s so much leaking from this White House, but particularly because Dick Durbin was in the room. The other option is that he knew it would get out.

The second scenario is more likely. Indeed, there are reports that Trump thought his sh**house comment was good politics, which he all too often defines as pleasing his base. As I wrote about in last week’s G-File, an obsession with pleasing your base at all costs is a somewhat novel theory of presidential politics and even presidential conduct.

As a practical matter, not everything Trump does that revs up his base is bad policy or bad politics. But they very often are — either on the merits or due to poor messaging. In particular, episodes like the sh**house controversy unite Democrats and most independents against the White House and the GOP, and they divide Republicans. Indeed, the Republicans in the room are now themselves struggling to get on the same page about both policy and their accounts of what happened. Conservative pundits and politicians are scrambling to find a coherent and plausible way to defend a statement that was unwise, either as a matter of decency or practical politics (or both).

This is a small example of the larger trend. It’s not exactly a new insight that successful presidents come up with issues that divide the opposition and unite their own coalition. That’s why Democrats whined for decades about “wedge issues.” The ideal issue for any politician is what some people call a “70-30” issue, if the politician can claim the 70 percent side. Trump plays the politics of wedge issues all the time, but he tends to take the 30 percent issues that divide Republicans and enlarge the opposition. Whether he’s right or can, with great effort, be defended on a specific controversy doesn’t change the fact that Trump has a gift for making the jobs of Republicans harder and the jobs of Democrats easier.

There’s No Point In Berating Secretary Nielsen for Trump’s Comment

by Jim Geraghty

If Fire and Fury is to be believed – an open question – Donald Trump came to Washington and contemplated making his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, his first chief of staff and he thought about nominating 73–year-old Rudy Giuliani to the Supreme Court. We know Trump chose Steve Bannon his chief strategist, Kushner to manage the Middle East peace process, and picked Ben Carson to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Whenever President Trump appoints someone qualified and competent for a position, lawmakers of both parties would be wise to confirm that nominee and just do their best to work with the nominee, come what may. After all, considering Trump’s unpredictable and arbitrary criteria for personnel decisions, there’s no guarantee that the replacement will be an improvement. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnunchin — you know what? This might be as good as it gets, senators. There’s a good chance you’ll dislike the next nominee even more than the current cabinet member.

Today Senator Corey Booker described himself as “seething with anger” and raged at Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, when she dodged questions on just what words Trump used in that infamous Oval Office meeting. “Your silence and amnesia are complicity!” Booker fumed.

Whether you love Nielsen or hate her, or you haven’t even really noticed her at DHS, Nielsen is qualified and not responsible for the president shooting his mouth off during negotiations in the Oval Office. It wasn’t Nielsen who made the infamous profane comment in the Oval Office. Trump’s put her in an impossible spot. If she confirms the comment, she’s created a giant controversy for the White House and Trump’s mercurial and impulsive enough to fire her. If she denies the comment, she’s basically calling other senators liars and possibly lying under oath to Congress. Nielsen didn’t want to touch this issue with a ten-foot pole, and it’s hard to blame her. She just wants to do the job of running the Department of Homeland Security, not get dragged into an argument about which countries qualify for Trump’s vulgar label and which ones don’t.

If every single government employee who was offended by the president’s words, decisions, or behavior resigned in protest, we probably wouldn’t have a federal government anymore. Trying to play “gotcha” with Nielsen or haranguing her for not dressing down the president when he said something crude may help Booker as he prepares to face a crowded Democratic field in 2020, but it just makes getting things done at DHS more difficult.

‘Democracy in Crisis’

by John O'Sullivan

Later today, a conference on “Democracy in Crisis” will be held by the American Enterprise Institute jointly with Freedom House and the Center for American Progress at which Senator Ben Sasse will deliver the keynote address. It’s an unusual case of cooperation between the moderate Right (AEI), the progressive Left (CAP), and the left-leaning Center in the form of Freedom House.

It’s the (not quite) opening shot in what promises to be a battle of manifestos and new coalitions over the definition and meaning of democracy in American and global politics, which looks likely to pit most conservatives and mainstream Republicans against a coalition of progressives and liberal Republicans with the former supporting a majoritarian view of democracy (“populism” to their critics) and the latter a form of liberal democracy in which courts, international treaties, and bureaucratic agencies take decisions once under the control of Congress (“post-democracy” to their critics.) Meetings have been held in Washington over the past few weeks by both groups. Expect both “populists” and “post-democrats” to issue statements along the lines of “democracy is going to the dogs” while differing wildly on the identity of the dogs.

Today’s statement is the “not quite” opening salvo in this battle because most of the usual suspects in the post-democratic camp issued a statement in Prague in the middle of last year: “Liberal democracy is under threat, and all who cherish it must come to its defence” ran the opening sentence of “The Prague Appeal for Democratic Renewal,” authored by 180 intellectuals, artists, and activists, including Anne Applebaum, Timothy Garton Ash, Shlomo Avineri, Francis Fukuyama, Richard Gere, Garry Kasparov, Mario Vargas Llosa, Arch Puddington, and George Weigel.

It got only modest and brief coverage, however, because . . . well, because there’s been a lot of political and international news in the last year to distract attention. And what attention it got was unwelcome. It came in the form of a sardonic analysis of its arguments in the Australian magazine Quadrant by Professor Ryszard Legutko, the distinguished Polish philosopher and member of the European parliament who edited an underground philosophy journal for Solidarity under Communism and more recently has written a book examining how “liberal democracy” in Europe has been transmogrified into a rigid progressivist ideology while conservatives weren’t looking.

Writing about the Prague Appeal, Legutko took on what he described as its main thrust: “democracy being threatened from within.”

“Examples? Not many, and not exactly supporting what they were intended to support. Only four countries are mentioned by name: Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines, Venezuela “and other backsliding democracies”. Those other backsliding democracies are not named.

Again, this is sheer nonsense. Venezuela has been in disarray at least since 1998 — and that is a generous assessment — the Philippines since the very beginning, and Turkey has had a turbulent internal history since the fall of the Ottoman empire. To discover suddenly that those countries are now backsliding into something politically disconcerting and to make a big thing about it in 2017 seems bizarre. Surely, no one can believe that this constellation of public celebrities took such pains to gather together solely in order to express their concerns about internal developments in the Philippines, Venezuela and Turkey.

What was their purpose then? The answer is the last of the four countries mentioned — Hungary or, rather, Hungary and everything it has come to represent. But putting Hungary alongside Venezuela, the Philippines and Turkey is outrageous and shows intellectual dishonesty. In those three countries, one can find bloodshed and torture, death squads, demonstrators shot at by security forces, members of the opposition arrested, journalists imprisoned, open public debate muzzled, elections possibly rigged, courts intimidated. Which of these things happens or is likely to happen in Hungary? Even making a loose association between Hungary and those countries is an insult to decency. And this method of insinuation, of vile imprecision, of attributing guilt by such scurrilous associations pervades the entire Prague document.”

Legutko then goes on to examine the wider ambitions of the Appeal:

Keep reading this post . . .

Cory Booker Melts Down, Yells at DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen over Trump Comments

by Alexandra DeSanctis

At a Senate hearing this morning, New Jersey senator Cory Booker erupted at Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, over President Trump’s recent controversial comments. According to several people present at an immigration-reform meeting at the White House last week, the president called the countries of Haiti and El Salvador “sh**hole” or “sh**house” countries, from which the U.S. should not accept immigrants.

The Democratic senator — who just joined the Senate Judiciary Committee this year – went on a tirade against Nielsen during the hearing, shouting at her for her supposed failure to understand or care about minority Americans who are concerned about bigotry and threats. “Your silence and your amnesia are complicity,” Booker told her.

“When Dick Durbin called me, I had tears of rage when I heard about this experience in that meeting,” Booker said. “And for you not to feel that hurt and that pain and to dismiss some of the questions of my colleagues . . . when tens of millions of Americans are hurting right now because they’re worried about what happened in the White House. That’s unacceptable to me.”

Here is part of Booker’s rant, via CBS News:

A President and an Embassy

by Jay Nordlinger

Today, the new U.S. embassy in London opened its doors to the public. It is an impressive embassy — befitting the United States, a global leader, in the capital of its closest ally, Great Britain (also a global leader).

In the ordinary course of things, the U.S. president would have been there. But Donald Trump was absent, tweeting the following:

“Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for ‘peanuts,’ only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!”

Within hours, this statement was contradicted by the president’s ambassador in London, Robert “Woody” Johnson (the pharmaceutical heir and owner of the New York Jets). (The Jets had a miserable season in 2017. Diplomacy in London has had a better one, no matter what our problems.)

Our new embassy was ordered by the administration of George W. Bush, for we are in an age of terror, and we have the corpses to prove it. In August 1998 — three years before 9/11 — Islamists bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. They killed more than 200 people. And 9/11, of course, further concentrated our mind.

We got serious about regulations. For instance, embassies should not be so close to streets.

In London, our embassy was smack in the heart of things — Grosvenor Square, Mayfair — and it was almost impossible to secure. As Ambassador Johnson says, “We had to move to a location that could better protect American citizens and our British neighbors.”

He also points out that the new embassy — the most expensive one ever built — “did not cost the U.S. taxpayer a cent.” The money was raised by selling off other U.S.-government properties in London.

Why did the president cancel his trip to London? It seems that he feared large demonstrations against him (which is not exactly abnormal for the president of the United States). Also, he and the British prime minister, Theresa May, had a public dispute several weeks ago.

Trump retweeted an extremist group called “Britain First.” (It was founded in 2011, before Trump revived the old American slogan “America First.”) The British PM said that this was not a group worthy of promotion by the U.S. president. The president reacted sharply to this.

Was anything — anything at all — in his embassy tweet true? I don’t think you have to be a sufferer from “TDS” — Trump Derangement Syndrome — to conclude not. We are told, over and over, “This president is not normal.” It occurs to me that both sides agree: his admirers and his detractors.

Switzerland Follies

by Wesley J. Smith

Switzerland has followed New Zealand and a few other localities to outlaw boiling live lobsters. It also requires them to be shipped in salt water. Supporters claim that lobsters can feel pain, a dubious prospect, given that they don’t have brains to process stimuli.

But never mind. The Swiss epitomize the world we are creating once we reject human exceptionalism and/or elevate eliminating – as opposed to mitigating — suffering to top societal priority. That can drive policy into surreal regions of misplaced priorities. Consider:

Switzerland has amended its constitution to recognize the individual dignity of plants. Not ecosystems. Individual plant dignity. A big-brained bioethics committee, assigned to explain the reasons for so doing, stated in its report, “The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants,” that since plants share biochemical traits with us at the cellular level, it is immoral to “decapitate” a wildflower. (I kid you not!)

One canton in Switzerland assigns a lawyer to represent animals. One such lawyer sued a fisherman on behalf of a client that became dinner, for taking to long to reel in the fish.

A GMO researcher, seeking to find a way to prevent fungus from spoiling wheat, could only obtain government financing when he asserted that the research would be beneficial for the wheat.

The country has outlawed flushing a living goldfish down the toilet.

Some might say, what’s wrong with alleviating suffering? Of plants! But again, never mind.

The point is that this great concern does not exist when it comes to protecting the lives of suicidal, sick, disabled, and mentally ill people.

Switzerland allows “suicide tourism,” through which locals and foreigners attend suicide clinics that charge thousands of dollars to make their clients dead — including joint suicides of elderly couples and an Italian elderly woman despairing over lost looks. The Swiss Supreme Court has declared a constitutional right to assisted suicide for the mentally ill.

Switzerland’s enshrining of “plant dignity” into law, its outlawing the boiling of lobsters and the flushing of goldfish, and its blithe abandonment of the despairing to extinction in suicide clinics are symptomatic of our fast-eroding ability in the West to think critically and to distinguish serious from lesser ethical concerns.

Rolling Your Own (and an Evening Chez Buckley)

by Jay Nordlinger

I’ve done a new Jaywalking podcast, which gives you a little music, a little politics, and a little more. I say that I like a performer who “rolls his own” — that is, who writes his own music, in addition to performing it. Daniil Trifonov does this. (I lead the podcast with his piano concerto.) So do a handful of others, most of them pianists.

In the past, there was no great division between composers and performers. Think of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Think of Chopin, Paganini, and Rachmaninoff. But then, in the first part of the 20th century, there came this split.

You know who was a helluva pianist, a big virtuoso (apart from the fact that he was a sublime musician, and a genius)? Bartók. That is how he made his living for a long time. The piano music he wrote, he wrote for himself to concertize with — including his Concerto No. 2, one of the most difficult pieces in the repertoire. (This comes up in my new Jaywalking.)

On the subject of Hungarian pianists: WFB once invited to dinner a remarkable man, Balint Vázsonyi. He studied at the Liszt Academy and escaped Hungary in ’56, when he was 20. In America, he got involved in politics. Indeed, he ran for mayor of Bloomington, Ind. He also spent some time in my hometown, Ann Arbor, Mich.

So did György Sándor, another Hungarian pianist, who comes up in this new Jaywalking. (I both talk about him and play a brief recording of his.) Sándor was a protégé of Bartók, and it was he, actually, not the composer, who gave the premiere of Bartók’s Concerto No. 3.

I don’t know about Sándor’s politics. I can guess. Most of those guys were deeply freedom-loving. Balint Vázsonyi was a conservative of the Reagan stripe. He prized the liberalism — the classical liberalism — that allows high culture and other good things to flourish.

After dinner, WFB asked Vázsonyi to play something. Vázsonyi demurred a bit, pointing out that he had drunk wine, but he went to the piano and played some Schumann — the Arabeske in C. WFB loved it, as he did civilization at large.

I end the new Jaywalking with the playing of Myra Hess — Dame Myra Hess, the British pianist — who was one of Vázsonyi’s teachers, along with other greats (e.g., Dohnányi).

I’m sorry that Vázsonyi and all the others were run out of their native lands, needless to say. And, of course, many did not reach exile: They were imprisoned or murdered where they were. But I was awfully glad to meet these refugees and exiles, and they enriched the lands to which they went, chiefly ours. I kid about Ann Arbor as a left-wing citadel. But it was also stocked with people who had fled tyranny, and knew the value of liberal democracy, and I profited from them immensely.

National Review Summer Internship

by NR Staff

National Review is accepting applications for its summer internship. The intern will work in our New York office, receive a modest stipend, participate in every part of the editorial process, and have some opportunities to write. The ideal candidate will have an excellent academic record and some experience in student or professional journalism. If you wish to apply, please send a cover letter, your résumé, and two of your best writing samples (no more, please) to editorial.applications (at) nationalreview.com.

In Infamous Meeting, Trump Spoke of Attracting Asian Immigrants

by Rich Lowry

Everyone is putting such weight on last Thursday’s White House meeting, it’d be nice to have a transcript to know exactly what was said. As it is, we are working off differing, fuzzy accounts that, while broadly consistent, are inevitably influenced by the viewpoints of the various participants (my favorite Russian adage: No one lies like an eyewitness). Plus, the meeting, as the Washington Post describes it this morning, “was short, tense and often dominated by loud cross-talk and swearing.”

I thought this passage in the Post account was notable: “[Trump] also objected that Democratic proposals to adjust the visa lottery and federal policy for immigrants with temporary protected status were going to drive more people from countries he deemed undesirable into the United States instead of attracting immigrants from places like Norway and Asia, people familiar with the meeting said.”

Now, I don’t think a president should talk the way Trump does, and if he thinks it’s impossible to get good immigrants from ramshackle, dysfunctional countries, he’s obviously wrong. But much of the argument that his comments exposed a hideous racism is that, while dumping on “sh**house” countries, he said he wanted immigrants from Norway, an overwhelmingly white country.

I believe he said this for two reasons: 1) He’d just met with the prime minster of Norway, who had spun him up about all the wonders of Norway; 2) Norway was a way to contrast immigrants with education and skills to those without.

This interpretation is buttressed by the Post’s sentence. What do immigrants from Norway and Asia have in common? It’s not that they are white. It’s that they are skilled, or at least associated with skills.

Of course, the picture for Asian immigration differs from country to country, per the Migration Policy Insitute: “The majority of immigrants from India (76 percent), Taiwan (70 percent), and Saudi Arabia and Singapore (68 percent each) were college graduates, compared to less than one-quarter of those from Vietnam (25 percent), and Cambodia and Laos (15 percent each).”

The economic success of the better-educated Asian immigrants is astounding:

In 2014, the median income of households headed by an Asian immigrant was $70,000, compared to $49,000 and $55,000 for overall immigrant and native-born households, respectively. Households headed by Indian ($105,000), Taiwanese ($91,000), Filipino ($82,000), and Malaysian ($80,000) immigrants had the highest median income among all Asian immigrant groups.

Anyway, I believe the simplest explanation for most Trump controversies is that he’s being crude and thoughtless, and that applies here. The sh**house controversy has been longer-lasting than most, now on its fifth day, but by the end of week, we’ll be on to something else.

Women Writers Start Worrying About What, Exactly, Constitutes #MeToo

by Jim Geraghty

From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Women Writers Start Worrying About What, Exactly, Constitutes #MeToo

Perhaps it was inevitable that someone would claim the mantle of #MeToo in circumstances that were far murkier than the early scandals.

A photographer using the pseudonym “Grace” gives a lengthy, explicit description of a date with comedian Aziz Ansari that offers an unflattering portrait of him being clumsy and insistent to have sex, but never quite doing anything that most would characterize as sexual assault or harassment. As Andrea Peyser puts it, “Grace apparently believes that Ansari should have been able to read her mind, when a simple ‘Stop!’ would have promptly ended the activities.”

Quite a few women are deeply irked that this description of a bad date is getting lumped in with the #MeToo movement.

HLN host Ashley Banfield:

Banfield continued to criticize Grace’s claims, saying that “by your own clear description, this wasn’t a rape, nor was it a sexual assault. By your description, your sexual encounter was unpleasant.” The host then claimed that Grace had “chiseled away at a movement that I, along with all of my sisters in the workplace, have been dreaming of for decades. A movement that has finally changed an oversexed professional environment that I, too, have struggled through at times over the last 30 years in broadcasting.”

Added Banfield: “The #MeToo movement has righted a lot of wrongs and it has made your career path much smoother … what a gift. Yet, you looked that gift horse in the mouth and chiseled away at that powerful movement with your public accusation.”

Bari Weiss, writing in the New York Times:

I am a proud feminist, and this is what I thought while reading Grace’s story:

If you are hanging out naked with a man, it’s safe to assume he is going to try to have sex with you.

If the inability to choose a pinot noir over a pinot grigio offends you, you can leave right then and there.

If you don’t like the way your date hustles through paying the check, you can say, “I’ve had a lovely evening and I’m going home now.”

If you go home with him and discover he’s a terrible kisser, say “I’m out.”

If you start to hook up and don’t like the way he smells or the way he talks (or doesn’t talk), end it.

Caitlin Flanagan, writing in The Atlantic:

Was Grace frozen, terrified, stuck? No. She tells us that she wanted something from Ansari and that she was trying to figure out how to get it. She wanted affection, kindness, attention. Perhaps she hoped to maybe even become the famous man’s girlfriend. He wasn’t interested. What she felt afterward—rejected yet another time, by yet another man—was regret. And what she and the writer who told her story created was 3,000 words of revenge porn. The clinical detail in which the story is told is intended not to validate her account as much as it is to hurt and humiliate Ansari. Together, the two women may have destroyed Ansari’s career, which is now the punishment for every kind of male sexual misconduct, from the grotesque to the disappointing.

Karol Markowicz:

So many of the well-known #MeToo stories centered on power dynamics. Matt Lauer allegedly assaulting his underlings. Weinstein blocking the careers of actresses who turned him down. But no such power dynamic existed in this situation. Grace was not hanging out with Ansari for a career opportunity. Their date was understood to be romantic by both of them. If we’ve reached a point where #MeToo will include regrettable hook-ups the whole movement is diluted and actual sexual assault stories minimized.

It’s an odd feeling to write “Sonny Bunch is right,” but he’s got a point:

I would suggest there’s a reason this story appeared in babe.net, rather than the New York Times or BuzzFeed or the Los Angeles Times or, yes, The Washington Post. One of the reasons is that, however Grace now thinks of the encounter, what happened isn’t sexual assault or anything close to it by most legal or common-sense standards. And bad dates — including terrible ones that leave one person feeling humiliated — aren’t actually newsworthy, even when they happen to famous people.

An “I had sex with a celebrity and regretted it, and isn’t that kind of like Harvey Weinstein” claim is exactly the sort of unconvincing argument that a powerful sexual predator would want in the news right now. Because if people perceive #MeToo as being driven by a desire to publicly detail every sexual encounter that ends unsatisfactory or awkwardly, a lot of people will recoil from it. Sex is complicated and messy enough without the thought of having every encounter or attempted encounter broadcast to the world for dissection and analysis.

Meanwhile, actress Eliza Dushku described being sexually assaulted by a stunt coordinator on the set of True Lies; she was 12 at the time. Her agent went to the executive producer and told her about the assault, but “nobody really did anything.”

Tuesday links

by debbywitt

Prohibition in the United States began on January 16, 1920: here’s some history, contemporaneous newsreels, the women who tried to telepathically influence the vote, Abraham Lincoln and Milton Friedman.

The Forgotten History Of How Automakers Invented The Crime Of ‘Jaywalking’.

Why Do Toll-Free Numbers Start With 800?

The Ultimate Paper Airplane.

Tequila is good for your health, according to top scientists.

Why do we call gadgets ”doohickeys“?

ICYMI, Monday’s links are here, and include the 1918 Flu pandemic, Napoleon’s descendants, the 99th anniversary of Boston’s deadly 2.3 million gallon molasses flood, and neurological disorders in Alice in Wonderland.

Good King Michael

by Jay Nordlinger

There is a cliché: Sometimes you don’t know a man till he dies. Do you know King Michael of Romania? We call him a “monarch and mensch.” I have sketched him out on the homepage today, here.

When he was five, he ascended to the throne. On hearing the news, he asked for a piece of chocolate cake. He later contended with the Nazis. He led a daring coup d’état against a fascist dictatorship. His mother earned the designation “righteous among the nations.” He then contended with the Soviets. There was a long exile — then a return to Romania after the fall of the Wall.

“It’s good to be king,” people say, and often it is: gold, power, harems! It was not especially good for Michael. But he carried out his duty, and he set an example of modesty and morality in kingship.

Anyway, a life to know, and a life that tells us a lot about the century just past.

How State Legislators Can Improve Higher Education

by George Leef

Usually, the less a state does with regard to higher education, the better. Sometimes, however, there are measures that a state legislature could take that would make its higher-education system better. In today’s Martin Center article, Jenna Robinson writes about several ideas that North Carolina’s legislature should push this year.

The one that has the most national interest involves a contentious matter in Title IX cases — the burden of proof.  During the Obama administration, the Education Department sent forth its “guidance” on how colleges should handle such cases, including a directive to employ a “preponderance of the evidence” standard for finding an accused student guilty. That very weak standard led to punishment for many students based on pretty flimsy accusations. Secretary DeVos has rescinded that directive, leaving it up to individual schools to decide on the evidentiary standard. Some, in the grip of feminist/progressive ideology, have declared that they will stick with the weak Obama standard.

Actually, I can applaud that as a matter of federalism — the feds don’t have any business telling states what to do on this. State legislatures ought to insist on a “clear and convincing” standard in the colleges and universities they fund, as well as protect the rights of accused students in other ways.

Regarding the legislation that has been introduced, Robinson writes, “If enacted, the bill would require universities to give accused students ‘adequate notice including details of the allegation . . . and copies of all evidence at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.” It would also permit both parties in a case to question and cross-examine witnesses. And it states that the “standard of proof of responsibility for proving sexual misconduct shall not be less than clear and convincing evidence.”

This will no doubt come up in other “red” states where the officials in the state university system want to keep using the deck that was stacked against accused students.

Robinson also advocates more transparency in public university foundations to ensure that they operate in the public interest, and to change the funding model for state universities so that they do more to promote student success.

Admire King, but Not Blindly

by Kevin D. Williamson

CNN wants you to know that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t just about all that “I have a dream” stuff. “He’s an environmental hero,” CNN writes via Twitter. He was a socialist before it was cool.”

(Oh, socialism is “cool,” is it, CNN?)

King had a lot of batty ideas and a few truly dumb ones, and he did indeed flirt with the idea of democratic socialism toward the end of his life. But he was right about the thing we remember him for, and that was important.

Using King’s moral stature to promote socialism or global-warming legislation in 2018 is morally and intellectually dishonest, as its the adoption of King as a charismatic mascot for all things leftish. (One wonders what the Christian minister would have thought about the modern Democratic party, particularly its attitudes toward abortion and homosexuality.) King belongs in a category with Mohandas Gandhi and Thomas Jefferson, men who were giants on the issue most closely associated with them but who also had some pretty bad ideas, including destructive political ideas, and each man of course fell short of the glory in the usual human ways.

No one knows what King would have thought about the Paris climate agreement or publicly funded abortions. And even if we did know, there would be no reason to treat his preferences as dispositive, inasmuch as he was wrong about a great number of important things during his own life.

One may admire Gandhi without sharing his reverence for cattle, and one need not take the Mammoth Cheese along with one’s Jefferson. And one may admire the best of King without admiring blindly.

If a Missile Alert Sounds, Prepare to Live

by David French

You get alert on your phone that a missile is inbound. You flip on the television to confirm, and it’s repeating the same message. What do you do? Do you prepare to die, or do you prepare to live?

Prepare to live. As tempting as it may be, don’t spend the precious minutes between missile alert and missile impact texting family, sending tearful goodbyes on Snapchat, or attempting to reconcile old grudges. Don’t do it.

First, you have to understand that the odds are overwhelming that you’ll survive an initial blast. Nuclear weapons are devastating, but it’s a Hollywood myth that any individual strike will vaporize an entire American city, much less the suburbs and countryside. You can go to sites like nuclearsecrecy.com to see the blast radius of direct nuclear strikes at various yields.

The bottom line, even if a nuclear weapon as big as the largest North Korea has ever tested were to impact squarely on Manhattan, the vast majority of New Yorkers would survive the initial blast. A strike would devastate central Honolulu but leave many suburbs intact. If the missile misses a city center even by a small amount, the number of initial casualties plunges dramatically.

Second, you also need to understand that you have far more control over your survival than you might think. Time and isolation are your friends. The more walls you can put between yourself and not just the blast but also the fallout, the better. Get in a basement. If you don’t have a basement, get in an interior room. Gather as much food and water as you possibly can and hunker down. Every single hour, every single day you can stay indoors and protected from the elements brings you closer to survival. The radiation threat tends to diminish rapidly.

Resist the urge to be an apocalypse tourist. There is no need to try to record the nuclear blast on your phone, and running outside after the boom is a really, really bad idea — unless it’s the only way to escape a fire. Otherwise the reward for your curiosity could be an agonizing, unnecessary death due to radiation sickness. Stay put. Be patient. Eat your canned food and drink your water.

Unless we’re dealing with a massive nuclear exchange with Russia — or, say, a serious attack from China — help will come. The closer you are to the blast, the more time it will take to safely transport serious aid, but your survival is far more in your hands than you think.

Yesterday’s warning presents an opportunity to take stock. Do you have an emergency plan? Do you have a basic stock of emergency supplies? Do you know exactly where you’d go in your house? Have you gone to websites like ready.gov to understand the basics? There’s nothing weird or strange about being a basic “prepper.” The odds of facing a nuclear strike are very, very small, but there’s nothing wrong with preparing for the far-more-likely hurricane, tornado, snowstorm, or ice storm. When you live in the South and Midwest, it’s hardly unusual for the power to go out, the emergency alerts to sound, and for families to hunker down in their safe spaces. Why not be ready?

Democrats Don’t Want to Face Their Own Demonization of Trade Deals

by Jim Geraghty

In a lengthy transcribed discussion in Politico about an upcoming documentary, former Obama deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, critiqued the Trump administration’s approach to diplomacy: “The America-first approach, if that is their organizing principle, is the opposite of where Barack Obama took that lesson. He took that lesson to what’s in the movie, which is we need to be diplomatically—we need to be in Laos and Vietnam, because that’s how we’re going to have to deal with China, not we’re going to retreat from TPP and get out of Asia.”

Elsewhere in the discussion, Rhodes elaborates, “the strategic consequences of leaving TPP, I think, are massive. When I think of the things that Trump has done, ironically, everything is sort of—we care so much about Cuba and the Iran deal. I think pulling out of TPP is just devastating. I think the Chinese have just a wide-open field in Asia now, and they’re doing their One Belt and One Road Initiative, and they’re setting the agenda.”

Apparently all of Washington has forgotten that Hillary Clinton pledged to get rid of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, too, not just President Trump. “I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” she said at a rally in Warren, Michigan on August 11, 2016. “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president.”

No matter what happened on Election Day 2016, the United States was going to elect a president who opposed TPP.

Because of Clinton’s history, quite a few folks may have believed that she was lying when she declared she opposed TPP. As Secretary of State, she had called it the “gold standard.” Perhaps Hillary Clinton never intended to withdraw from TPP, and only pretended to oppose it to win votes in Rust Belt states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. (If that was the case, that approach failed miserably.)

Also in the conversation, Rhodes adds, “we were hoping we’ll get that in a lame duck if Hillary wins, and try to figure something out.” In other words, the Republican nominee ran against a particular trade deal, the Democratic nominee ran against the same trade deal, and the perspective of one of Obama’s top advisors was that the trade deal should be enacted anyway. That is some gourmet artisan cynicism there.

Bernie Sanders opposed TPP, too, meaning the Democratic Party was more or less unified in opposition.

The Democrats embrace anti-free-trade populism as much as the Republicans do. Rhodes and company are lamenting that Trump is opposing policies that the 2016 Democratic nominee wasn’t willing to defend or advocate, and not many Congressional Democrats are willing to defend or advocate free trade policies, either. One can’t help but feel that the Democrats are enraged by Trump’s anti-trade rhetoric in part because he’s doing their shtick better than they did. If Democrats – or Republicans! — want to enact more free trade deals, they need to stand up and make the case for why they benefit the country in aggregate, instead of winking and nodding and then attempting to ram them through in lame duck sessions.

Incompetence Is More Frightening Than Hackers

by Jim Geraghty

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

Incompetence Is More Frightening Than Hackers

I spent much of Saturday wondering if the false warning of an imminent ballistic missile strike on Hawaii was the work of malicious hackers. That scenario would be strangely preferable, having a malevolent entity to blame, instead of accepting that the entire system for warning the public really can be activated by one employee pressing the wrong button, as the state’s governor described it.

Apparently it wasn’t even a button; it was a drop-down menu on a computer screen.

Shortly after 8 a.m. local time Saturday morning, an employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency settled in at the start of his shift. Among his duties that day was to initiate an internal test of the emergency missile warning system: essentially, to practice sending an emergency alert to the public without actually sending it to the public.

Around 8:05 a.m., the Hawaii emergency employee initiated the internal test, according to a timeline released by the state. From a drop-down menu on a computer program, he saw two options: “Test missile alert” and “Missile alert.” He was supposed to choose the former; as much of the world now knows, he chose the latter, an initiation of a real-life missile alert.

“In this case, the operator selected the wrong menu option,” HEMA spokesman Richard Rapoza told The Washington Post on Sunday.

Around 8:07 a.m., an errant alert went out to scores of Hawaii residents and tourists on their cellphones: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” A more detailed message scrolled across television screens in Hawaii, suggesting, “If you are indoors, stay indoors. If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building or lay on the floor.”

Imagine getting that text, turning on the television for some sort of confirmation or reassurance that it was only a drill, and finding the same message running across the top of the screen, with a pre-recorded voice repeating the warning. No wonder Hawaiians were terrified; they awoke to find themselves in the early scenes of The Day After.

If it hadn’t been terrifying, it would have been comic; having scared the bejeebers out of most residents in the state, the state agency couldn’t quickly figure out a way to tell everyone it had been a false alarm:

Part of what worsened the situation Saturday was that there was no system in place at the state emergency agency for correcting the error, Rapoza said. The state agency had standing permission through FEMA to use civil warning systems to send out the missile alert — but not to send out a subsequent false alarm alert, he said.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said it has also suspended all internal drills until the investigation is completed. In addition, it has put in place a “two-person activation/verification rule” for tests and actual missile launch notifications. On Saturday, Ripoza said, the employee was asked in the computer program to confirm that he wanted to send the message. In the future, a second person will be required for confirmation.

Our John Fund asks a fair question: if this sort of mistake doesn’t get you canned, what does?

“This guy feels bad, right. He’s not doing this on purpose. It was a mistake on his part and he feels terrible about it,” explained Hawaii EMA administrator Vern Miyagi, a former Army major general. But Miyagi declined to say that the staffer would face any disciplinary actions. Richard Rapoza, the official spokesman for EMA, declined to identify the errant employee and added, “At this point, our major concern is to make sure we do what we need to do to reassure the public. This is not a time for pointing fingers.”

Actually, it is. In the Air Force my father served in for some 20 years, anyone who committed such a blunder would have been demoted or cashiered — along with any superior officer, such as Miyagi, who had failed to put in place redundancies to prevent such a fiasco. That kind of accountability strikes me as a pretty good way to start to “reassure the public.” It’s not as if EMA didn’t have any clues something was potentially wrong. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that while 93 percent of test alerts issued last month had worked, some could hardly be heard and a dozen mistakenly played an ambulance siren.

See? Hackers would be a more reassuring explanation.

Monday links

by debbywitt

On Jan. 15, 1919, Boston’s 2.3 million gallon molasses flood killed 21 people.

Napoleon’s Heirs Include a Wall Street Banker, the Founder of the FBI and a Star Trek Actor.

The Impossible Task of Reconstructing the Rules to an Ancient Board Game.

How deep have humans dug into the Earth?

The Neurological Disorders in Alice in Wonderland.

Ten Myths About the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

ICYMI, Friday’s links are here, and include Thomas Edison’s sci-fi novel, a Victorian dinosaur park, how to celebrate the Feast of the Ass, and why you can’t take an orange through customs.