Monthly Archives: March 2017

Flake News

Our household is in the habit of watching CBS This Morning with Norah O’Donnell, Gayle King and Charlie Rose.  Even paying my usual half-attention to it, I thought today’s show was more like BS This Morning and here is why.

The producers aired a story (you will have to trust me on this, since I cannot find a link to the video) about the action by Congress to roll back the internet privacy rules proposed by President Obama.  As a result of this act, internet service providers (ISPs) like Verizon and AT&T will be able to make commercial use of your internet connection history without asking you.

After the story aired, there was the obligatory twenty-second banter among the co-hosts.  As you might expect, they traded jokes about who had something to hide, and Gayle King mentioned the importance of erasing one’s browser history, as if that point was relevant to the story.  At no time did any of the co-hosts explain (or themselves seem to understand) that (a) the data collected by your ISP is not the same as the content you see on the screen, or (b) the data collected by your ISP cannot be erased by clearing your browser history.

Your ISP collects the addresses of sites you visit, along with the addresses of any site that delivers data to you via the target site.  But your ISP does not store every byte of data sent to your computer — that is both impractical and unneccessary.  It is impractical because there is not enough memory storage in the universe to save a copy of every byte delivered to every internet user.  It is unneccessary because if the FBI (for example) has an address, physical or virtual, it is pretty easy for them to show up at the address, knock on the door and take all the pictures they want.

Your browser data is very different from what your ISP collects.  Your browser records not only site-visit history but a fair amount of web content, and it stores it on your computer — if you choose to allow this — as a convenience to you, so that your frequently-visited sites load faster.  Erasing your browser history only gets rid of the content and the cookies and the addresses that your browser stored on your computer.  It cannot connect to your ISP and erase any data that your ISP stored.

Each of these privacy concerns is insidious enough — logically, internet service should be treated the same as telephone service in terms of requiring court orders to collect data — but what is almost as bothersome is that the co-hosts of CBS This Morning did not know enough about this story to accurately report on it.  They failed to educate their viewers.  Instead, they seemed to act in accord with what their viewers’ preconceptions might be.

Internet privacy?  Too complicated for me, Charlie!  I just work here.  For CBS News.

Dear CBS This Morning:  Just because you’re a morning show doesn’t mean that your viewers are brain-dead and deserve to be served flake news.  Learn before you speak.

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Sen. Grassley: Judge Collins, welcome to this Committee hearing.  The Committee respects your experience and we wish to assure you that you will receive a fair hearing in this chamber — but we do have some concerns.

Me:  Of course you do, and thank you Senator Grassley.  But before we begin, I was just wondering… could we skip all this and go straight to Senator Franken’s questions?

Judge CollinsSen. Grassley:  That’s not the way it works here in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Collins, but nice try.  Your statement suggests that you are an activist judge, wouldn’t you agree?  But hold on, before I give you a chance to answer my question, I need to recite a seven-minute speech to impress my constituents from Iowa and my contributors  from AARP.  My staff worked on it all night.

Me:  Of course, Senator.  I understand.  I will try to be respectable.

Sen. Grassley:  Thank you, Judge Collins.  Now…

[Sen. Grassley rambles for eleven minutes.  Eyelids flutter.  Sen. Franken taps his tablet to see if his Netflix subscription has expired.]

Sen. Grassley:  …and now that I have done my best to make Judge Collins feel small and unworthy and uncooperative, I yield to the Ranking Member.

Sen. Feinstein:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  Judge Collins, allow me to welcome you to this hearing and let me assure you that we will treat your nomination impartially.

Me:  Uh-oh.  I mean, thank you.

Sen. Feinstein: Judge Collins, are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of the United States?

Me:  No… um, well, I once went to a party at my brother-in-law’s place, and it was sort of like a commune, but, uh, that was almost forty —

Sen. Feinstein:  Judge Collins, thank you.  Let the record show that Judge Collins disavows Communism and I direct that the remaining twenty-three pages of my remarks be entered into the Committee record.

Sen. Grassley:  So ordered.  The Chair recognizes… oh, wait a minute, let me put on my bifocals… okay good.  The Chair now recognizes the Senator from Utah.

Sen. Hatch:  Say my name please, Mr. Chairman.

Sen. Grassley:  The Senator from Utah has five minutes.

Sen. Hatch:  My time doesn’t start until you say my name.  Say it.  Go on.

Sen. Grassley:  Oh, come on.  I know you’re the Senator from Utah.  We just had lunch together the other day, or last month maybe.  You made some sort of joke about Mormons.

Sen. Hatch:  Well, this is an outrage.  I ask the Parlementarian to rule the Chair’s remark about Mormons out of order, and I again ask that the Chair recognize me by my honorific and name, if he is in fact able to do so.

Hatch and Grassley (Getty)Sen. Grassley:  I will remind my Colleague and Friend, the Senator from Utah, that both of us are 83 years old.  Is there some kind of bee in the Senator’s bonnet today?

Sen. Hatch:  Say my name.  Look, I’ll even give you a clue.  It rhymes with Hatch.

Sen. Grassley:  Senator Match from Utah is recognized for five minutes.

Sen. Hatch:  Thank you, Chairman Assley.  Now, Judge Collins.  I have looked over your judicial record and I have found it to be quite sparse.  Quite sparse, in fact, if I may say so for dramatic effect.  So sparse that my staff could not discover one case you ever decided, let alone a case that you ever argued.  So, Judge Collins, please satisfy the jaded curiosity of this Committee — have you ever practiced in any jurisdiction in the United States?

Me:  Well… piano, but reluctantly.  I stopped practicing soon after I learned Für Elise.  That would have been in Pennsylvania.

Sen. Hatch:  So, that being the case, would you not admit that you would be the least qualified person to sit on the Supreme Court since, say, Mister Softee.  Isn’t that right?

Me:  I didn’t realize that Mister Softee — excuse me, I mean Justice Softee — had been a member of the Court until you mentioned it just now, Senator.  I will consult my notes after the hearing and I promise to give the Committee a definite answer.  Or, I will come back to the Committee and whistle the Mister Softee tune for you.

Sen. Grassley:  Your time is up, Senator from Utah.

Sen. Hatch:  Chairman Grassley, it hasn’t even been two minutes.

Sen. Grassley:  Seemed long enough to me, Senator.  Maybe my stopwatch would run a little more slowly if you had voted for my ethanol subsidy.  The Chairman recognizes Senator Franken from Minnesota for five minutes.

Me: Finally!

Sen. Grassley:  Excuse me, Judge Collins?

Me:  I said, fine with me, Chairman.

Sen. Grassley:  Good.  Senator Franken.  I caution you, this is a confirmation hearing for a Supreme Court Justice.  This is serious business, so no joking around.  Go ahead, Senator.

Sen. Franken:  Okay, Old Man.  [Franken pauses for effect, then nods toward Grassley.]  Heh heh, just kidding, Chuck.  I was going to say, “Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”  But then I thought, wouldn’t it be funnier to refer to the Chairman as “Old Man.”  Especially since “Old Man” would be the only true thing anyone has said in this room all day.  It was a joke, but it was still true.  Get it?  No?  OK, I’ll have to work on that one.  Anyway, Judge Collins, welcome to these proceedings.

Me:  Hello, Senator Franken.  Always enjoyed you.  Is it still the Al Franken Decade?

Sen. Franken:  Heh, heh.  Well, it’s more like the Donald Trump Debacle, but I’m the one who’s not supposed to make the jokes around here, Judge Collins.  Remember that.

Me:  Yes, Senator.

Sen. Franken:  So, my colleague Senator Match [Franken grins] from Utah has raised serious concerns about your background and your lack of experience.  I would like you to please tell the Committee, how did you become a judge?

Me:  Well, I have written a blog for six years now.  So I have made quite a few judgments — not only about politicians, but marketers, financial advisers, small-town newspapers, internet commenters, artists, the list goes on and on.  And I judge myself too.

Sen. Franken:  You mean you criticize yourself?  Is that possible?  No one here does that.  [Franken looks left and right with mock incredulity.]

Me:  I would say that I am faux-critical of myself when I am not faux-promoting myself.  There are times — just now in fact — that I seem to do both at the same time.

Sen. Franken:  Now, you said in your written testimony, you are a liberal and an atheist.  You do realize that no professed atheist has ever been appointed to the Supreme Court.  What makes you think an atheist, such as yourself, should have a seat on the Bench?  Wouldn’t you be afraid that your chair would catch fire, or that demons would fly out of your robe and up Justice Alito’s nose?

Me:  What I would worry about, if I had a seat on the Bench, would be Justice Ginsburg putting a whoopee cushion on it.

Sen. Franken:  Judge Collins, you are a remarkable man.  I almost said that you are as remarkable as I am, but that would not be true, because I had my own decade.  So, maybe you’re not all that remarkable.  Mr. Chairman, please strike my remarks on remarkable. Instead, I would like to use the balance of my time to share something that I just wrote as Judge Collins was talking.  It’s a little limerick.  Here goes:

There was a rich man from New York, who refused to eat any pork.  He wasn’t a Jew,  Muslim or Hindu, he just didn’t have the right fork.

Heh heh, how was that?

Me:  Was that a question for me?  Yes, that was very clever, Senator.  I assume that this limerick refers to President Trump?

Sen. Grassley:  The Chair thinks this so-called line of questioning has gone far enough.

Sen. Franken:  I have no further jokes, Mr. Chairman.  I mean, Old Man.  [Franken grins.]

Sen. Grassley [slams gavel]:  This committee is in recess until after lunch… how’s that? We already had lunch?  What was for lunch?  Hope it wasn’t corn.  I would hate to forget eating corn.

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I suddenly get it now.  I do.  I finally understand what has been so captivating about the self-styled entrepreneur/entertainer we know as Donald J. Trump running for President, then getting elected President and now acting as President (even though he doesn’t act like a President).  It’s not because Donald Trump is a NASCAR crash waiting to happen.  And it’s not because Trump is the non-fiction version of the compellingly callous King Geoffrey of Game of Thrones.  Even though both comparisons ring true, this is what dawned on me: a substantial number of your neighbors and mine see Trump as the President they would imagine themselves to be if only they had the opportunity.  For those tens of millions, Donald Trump offers them a vicarious presidency.

Kevin Kline as President "Dave"Of course, Mr. and Mrs. Dave the Dispatcher don’t really want responsibility for the nuclear button, or our soldiers’ lives, or our national security, but otherwise they would love to be in Trump’s shoes, to make the rules, to even the score!  How different things would be around here if only I were the President, thinks Dave.  And how different it would be if Dave were the President, thinks Mrs. Dave.  (Mrs. Dave is a traditionalist.)

A pity that Mr. and Mrs. Dave lacked the hundreds of power brokers, the thousands of rich connections, and the billion dollars they would need for Dave himself to run for President.  They did not have those kind of resources, but they did have Donald Trump and his kind of resources.  And when Trump essentially promised that he would be their co-president, the deal was done: a vote for Trump was a vote for themselves.

This is why criticizing Trump or anything he says or does is equivalent to criticizing tens of millions of Americans.  This is why Trump’s voters are immune to his impulsiveness, his sexism, his irrationality, his narcissism, his paranoia, his I-hate-them-now-I-love-them relationship with Wall Street.  Because Trump’s voters not only cast their lot but their very identities with him.  In terms of The Walking Dead, they are Trump in the same sense that The Saviors are Negan.

• • • •

My friends have probably heard me say this before: people who want to be supervisors are often the least qualified for that role.  They think that management is about telling other people what to do, and they think they are good at that.  But these would-be bosses have it backwards.  Good managers listen.  The best managers get out of the way and let talented people do what they are best at doing, while offering guidance and providing resources.

Trump is not a good manager.  Instead, he is the president of every self-styled supervisor in America: the person who wants to be in control, the person who wants to run things his or her own way.  Trump is their vicarious president.   He is certainly not mine.

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