July 02, 2018

Getting Closer ...

I had to spend a good part of today on the eviction-relocation business, including speaking about several matters with a company that does relocation work on behalf of the city, and then sharing information with a few of the other tenants. So my focus has been a bit shattered.

As a result, I continue to work on the next part of my examination of the Watkins-Wolfe story, but I fully intend to publish the third installment tomorrow, probably in the afternoon. I'm still not sure if three parts will do it. But if I do have further observations beyond part three, I may do posts about a few other subjects before returning to the story of the affair!

In response to the update about my personal situation, I have received a few additional donations. Thank you, thank you! However, I'm still $300-400 short of what I need for this group of bills (rent, internet, electricity, phone). And if I were to receive a bit more than that, I'd be able to stock up on some food. I'm told it's good to have food around. It's been quite a while since I've been able to buy groceries without counting pennies, but I have a vague recollection that food and eating regularly are good things.

But maybe this is the end of the road for me. Who knows. If it is, I have to say it's a shitty deal. There are lots of rotten people in the world. I'm happy and proud to say I'm not one of them. But hell, it's not as if the universe arranges itself so that people get what they deserve, and what they deserve according to our particular perspectives. (Regular readers may recall that extreme heat has a horrible effect on me, particularly in light of my health problems -- atrial fibrillation, heart disease, and so on. Just to keep me in line, the malevolent gods have arranged for temperatures to rise to 100 and above later this week. Imagine my inexpressible joy.)

As always, I'm enormously thankful for any help you may be able to offer. Thank you!

July 01, 2018

The Year of Anxiety

The Age of Anxiety is not only an Auden poem (and a symphony by Bernstein, and two ballets, as well). It also appears that the phrase describes what may be my overall state of being for the next year.

Several days ago, I explained that the owners of my apartment building have begun the countdown to demolition. Fortunately, we have until the end of May of next year to vacate the premises. Even though that's a substantial period of time for relocation, I'm considerably overwhelmed by everything that must be done, especially given my age and physical limitations (which are severe at this point). And in the meantime, I still must pay rent each month.

In response to that earlier post, I've received nine donations, totaling $405.00. My deep thanks to those angels of mercy. That will cover internet service and bills for electricity and telephone (all of which must also be paid within the next week, and which are obviously critical), leaving about $160 for rent. That means I'm $800 short of what is needed. I'm not including money for food. I have no money for food. What I have on hand will last four or five days, and that's it.

If you're able to help at all, it would be deeply, sincerely appreciated. As I've already mentioned, the building owners are required to pay me a relocation fee, since this is a forced, no-fault eviction. But if I were to be late with the rent during this interim period -- well, then they can evict me for non-payment, and not have to pay me a single cent. It would be a gift to them, so this is an awful time to be unable to make the rent payment. I have until the fifth to pay the rent in a timely manner; after that ...

In the meantime, I published the the second, lengthy part of my discussion about the Watkins-Wolfe story and related issues the other day. I'm in the midst of the third installment now; I expect to publish it tomorrow, barring unforeseen complications. The third part will probably be the last, although the subject is turning out to be richer than I had thought. It raises a host of issues, some of which only became clearer to me in the last few days. So the writing is going well. And I have a long list of other topics I want to get to. As I also mentioned, I'm finding that getting back to writing is a wonderful and welcome distraction to the nerve-wracking circumstances of my life at the moment. And they are very nerve-wracking.

A little relief would be a blessing. I offer my immense gratitude in advance for any assistance you may be able to offer. Many, many thanks.

June 29, 2018

It's Still Not About the Sex (II)

[The first part of this article about the Ali Watkins-James Wolfe story, and related matters concerning the ruling class and the media, will be found here. And an important personal note is here.]

An unexpected visitor has arrived to join our consideration of the Watkins-Wolfe story, the machinations of the ruling class, and our culture's special obsessions (with sex, most notably). Jill Abramson, who was executive editor of The New York Times for almost three years until she was fired amid much widely publicized drama, was particularly annoyed by certain aspects of the Times' current performance:
“Kind of pisses me off that @ nytimes is still asking Who Is Ocasio-Cortez? when it should have covered her campaign,” Jill Abramson erupted on Twitter on Wednesday morning—a biting reference to the newspaper’s original headline concerning the 28-year-old socialist’s shocking Democratic primary upset, a landslide actually, over incumbent Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional District.
The Times spokeswoman offered the obligatory, “We have enormous respect for Jill and deeply appreciate her passion," criticism is our friend, blahblahblah -- and then: "A few hours after Abramson’s tweet, the headline phrase that pissed her off, 'Who is Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez?' was changed online to 'Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: A 28-Year-Old Democratic Giant Slayer.'" Thank God everyone at the Times is so smart. I hate to think about the kinds of mistakes they might make if they were average dolts like the rest of us.

In a subsequent email exchange with the Daily Beast reporter, Abramson stated that she felt the Times needed "a course correction." She went on to say that the Times is "making horrible mistakes left and right. Here are a few":
“Not covering the ‘stunning’ upset of Joe Crowley. It’s the NYT that was undeservedly stunned, letting down its readers.

“That horrible 3,000-word exposé on Ali Watkins [the Times reporter who’s caught up in a leak investigation involving her ex-boyfriend, a former top staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee] that aired her sex life and conflicts while not probing why she was hired, responsibility of editors, or, most crucially, the value of her journalism (her Carter Page scoop in BuzzFeed actually helped lead to appt of Mueller).

“That story hung a 26-year-old young woman out to dry. It was unimaginable to me what the pain must be like for her.

“Readers, meanwhile, the most important NYT constituency, were left in a state of confusion."
And in a telephone interview, Abramson had still more to say:
The Ali Watkins profile, she said, "read like a steamy romance novel in parts," adding that it amounted to "a front-page piece about 'my love affair with someone.' It’s just crucifying. How do you then show up for work? I don’t see a good resolution for that."

Abramson, a frequent and vociferous critic of Barack Obama’s administration for its aggressive attempts to uncover reporters’ confidential sources, also faulted the story for placing more focus on Watkins’ personal life—and her admittedly questionable decision to withhold information about the government’s actions against her from her employer—than on the Trump Justice Department’s war on leaks.
Let's set aside questions about Abramson's possible motives for these criticisms and whether and to what extent we view her as a credible critic. She herself acknowledged to the Daily Beast reporter: "I fear sounding like a jealous old-timer. I’ve resisted critiquing the place publicly, but this shit is bad." Rather, let's focus on whether her criticisms are valid. I think they are; a review of the first part of this article shows that Abramson and I make some of the same points.

Abramson's argument that the Times story spends far too much time, and offers far too much detail, about Watkins' "sex life" and that the article "read like a steamy romance novel in parts" is unquestionably accurate. What is truly remarkable is that even after all the time and attention spent on the #MeToo movement -- and the Times itself contributed an enormous amount of coverage to that story, including a current lengthy article, "How Saying #MeToo Changed Their Lives" -- the Times has no compunctions at all about providing great prominence to a sleazy story of this kind, with an Evil Woman tempting men with her Evil Sex at its center. This is not to say that I'm as sympathetic to Watkins as Abrams; I'm not. I'll come back to that later.

Note how the Times opens this lengthy story:
The pearl bracelet arrived in May 2014, in the spring of Ali Watkins’s senior year in college, a graduation gift from a man many years her senior. It was the sort of bauble that might imply something more deeply felt than friendship — but then again, might not.

Ms. Watkins, then a 22-year-old intern in the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers, was not entirely surprised. She had met James Wolfe, a 50-something senior aide to the Senate Intelligence Committee, while hunting for scoops on Capitol Hill. He had become a helpful source, but there were times when he seemed interested in other pursuits — like when he presented her with a Valentine’s Day card.
It's not my focus at the moment, but keep in mind the phrase I highlighted: "He had become a helpful source." That's an important point to remember.

This story involves, among other issues, the Trump administration's war on leaks and, very significantly, the complex relationships between reporters and sources (or possible sources), including sources in positions with access to vast amounts of top secret information, as was true in Wolfe's case. But we're first invited to consider the significance of a pearl bracelet given to a young woman -- who's still in college! -- by a man -- who is "many years her senior"!

This slant on the material -- what Abramson justly refers to as sounding like "a steamy romance novel in parts" -- will be found throughout the Times article. For example:
Mr. Wolfe had a sensitive job: head of security at the Senate Intelligence Committee, where he oversaw the handling and distribution of highly classified materials delivered by agencies like the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. It was a high-ranking role that Mr. Wolfe had occupied since before Ms. Watkins was born.
You can hear your spinster Aunt Prunella making "Tsk! Tsk!" sounds under her breath, as she mutters: "Why, he's old enough to be her father!"

It might be nice to imagine that the story would have been handled in a very different manner had Abramson still held her job at the Times. She would like us to believe that, but we'll never know. And the Times' own reputation is on the line. What is pathetic -- and pathetically obvious -- is the enthusiasm with which a "venerated" institution like the Times will immediately offer up a sacrificial victim to distract attention from its own failings. My own view of the Times' behavior differs from Abramson's in this crucial respect: she sees it as the result of bad editorial judgment, while I see it as a deliberate strategy. I should offer one clarifying comment on that point. I am not saying that the decision to focus on "the affair" was a fully conscious one, although it had to be, at least in part. But such decisions are the result of patterns of behavior that accumulate over years; much of the process becomes automatic. In writing especially, choices and turns of phrase ("since before Ms. Watkins was born," rather than -- radical thought! -- simply stating the year) are thrown up by the subconscious, the result of choices and values made and reaffirmed over a substantial period of time.

The fact that the Times utilized this strategy in the midst of the year of #MeToo continues to astonish me. It reminds me of my argument in "Kill That Woman!," which included a discussion of Oscar Wilde's superlative retelling of the Salome story. Tragically, the final paragraphs of that essay remain all too relevant:
It is inconceivable to Herod -- just as it is inconceivable to most men -- that the fault or the responsibility should be his. The fault and the responsibility must be Salome's. The fault and the responsibility must always be woman's. In any confrontation between a man and a woman in our culture, there is only one party to be punished: the woman. ...

Kill that woman. That is the motive, and that is the goal. To the extent women are successful, to the extent they threaten men's monopoly on power and control, they must be demeaned, diminished, treated with unending cruelty, and mocked. When all else fails, they must be eliminated. Kill that woman.

So ends our story for today.
Those who are most critical of Watkins believe that she traded sex for scoops, which Watkins denies. Watkins insists that, once she became romantically involved with Wolfe, he was no longer a source for any of her stories. But what we're told by the Times considerably complicates the question. As noted above, in the initial stages of their relationship, before the sexual element was added, Wolfe was a source, indeed, "a helpful source." From the Times:
Ms. Watkins told friends that she did not start dating Mr. Wolfe until after she left McClatchy in the fall of 2014, and that when the relationship began, she imposed ground rules: She would tell Mr. Wolfe, “You are not my source,” and occasionally interrupt him if he started discussing his government work.

But sometimes, she admitted, it got complicated: She would make a mental note of tidbits he mentioned offhand, or gossip with him about Capitol Hill, or throw out a fact and gauge his reply.


The relationship has prompted concern in many newsrooms that Ms. Watkins’s conduct has made journalists, and particularly women, vulnerable to unfounded accusations of exchanging sex for information. And it has complicated what would otherwise be a straightforward argument for press advocates protesting the seizure of Ms. Watkins’s emails and phone records.
"[S]ometimes ... it got complicated." C'mon. C'mon. Can the few of us with mental ages over seven talk seriously about this for just a moment? If you tell me that you're having an affair with someone in a very sensitive job with access to top secret information -- and you are a reporter who writes stories about the very area in which the person with a very sensitive job works -- that person is one of your sources. Period. You can swear up and down that he isn't, and maybe you've successfully deluded yourself that he isn't. But he's one of your sources. I live in this world, and I know how relationships work. So do you. I also know what ambition can lead people to do.

All of this would be true multiple times over if I were your editor. You're involved romantically with him? He's your source. And yet, in the world of real-life editors, my perspective would appear to be unknown. Consider:
Relationships between reporters and sources are an art, not a science: In Washington, meals and late nights out with sources are part of a journalist’s job description. But becoming romantically involved is widely viewed as a conflict, opening a journalist to accusations of bias. [Imagine!]

Ms. Watkins initially sought advice from a Huffington Post editor, Amanda Terkel, who warned her that critics can use personal relationships against journalists. Editors there decided they were comfortable with her continuing to cover intelligence because Ms. Watkins said she was not using Mr. Wolfe as a source.
Also consider:
People at BuzzFeed say they had a general sense of her personal life: During a job interview, Ms. Watkins told Miriam Elder, an editor, that she was dating a man who did intelligence work on Capitol Hill. She said he was not a source, but did not volunteer Mr. Wolfe’s name or title, and the discussion went no further. (Ms. Elder declined to comment, but did not dispute the account.)

Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s editor in chief, said he believed Ms. Watkins when she said that Mr. Wolfe was not a source. Mr. Smith, in an email, did not condone dating a source, but he expressed a less draconian view about reporters who date within the industry they cover. “Reporters and editors aren’t some kind of priesthood,” he wrote, adding that editors “make these genuinely complex calls on a case-by-case basis.”
Watkins said Wolfe was not a source -- and the editors believed her.

One further example of editorial malfeasance should be included. In the course of her employment at Politico, editors learned Wolfe's identity:
[E]ditors were also surprised to learn that the man Ms. Watkins had been dating was a powerful official on a committee that she covered.

If Politico editors had reservations about Ms. Watkins’s relationship with Mr. Wolfe, they were not reflected in her assignments: over the following six months, she continued to write about the work of the Senate Intelligence Committee, including a closed-door session with Corey Lewandowski and a meeting with John Podesta.
Confronted by this inspiring display of tenacity and fine-honed judgment, I can only remark that, in an earlier time, with this kind of inextinguishable curiosity, this insatiable quest for the truth, this never-satisfied demand to have all the relevant facts, and all of this coupled with a remarkable degree of intellectual and emotional maturity, huge crowds would still be thronging the New York docks breathlessly awaiting the imminent arrival of the Titanic.

The comments from still another editor should be noted:
“People all across Washington are in all sorts of various relationships,” Ryan Grim, Ms. Watkins’s former editor at The Huffington Post, said in an interview. “You manage it, you put up walls, but you can’t pretend that you’re not human. Ali is a great reporter and I trust her judgment.”

“What I see is the Trump administration seizing a reporter’s records and tricking the press into writing about her sex life,” added Mr. Grim, who is now the Washington bureau chief of The Intercept. “It’s appalling what the Trump administration is doing and I don’t think you should enable it.”
I don't disagree about the seriousness of the seizure of Watkins' phone and email records; I'll comment further on that in the next installment.

As for the notion that the Trump administration is "tricking the press into writing about her sex life," when did anyone ever have to "trick" the press into writing about sex? This is true even of the Newspaper of Record, as the Times has proven beyond all doubt. It is hilarious to watch people who absolutely loathe and detest Trump continue to attribute to him powers and abilities unknown in all of previous history. The man is a marvel! This tactic also relieves people (the press, in this case) of having to take responsibility for their own decisions. And Grim thinks "Ali is a great reporter and I trust her judgment." If she thinks Grim is a thick-headed clod, I trust her judgment, too.

And even though he has no appreciation of the significance of his own utterance, Grim identifies the issue that cries out for attention and examination, but that goes entirely wanting: "People all across Washington are in all sorts of various relationships ... You manage it, you put up walls, but you can’t pretend that you’re not human." In the Watkins-Wolfe story, the focus is on sex for information. But sex is hardly the only commodity offered in exchange for certain benefits. Suppose a reporter unearths a story that is very unflattering to a well-known politician. The reporter knows the politician, who has been a source on several occasions. The reporter goes to the politician with the story, which is not earth-shattering but nonetheless has news value. The politician offers the reporter a bigger story about other people (including some politicians), and asks that the reporter bury the story about him. The reporter agrees. (We'll be kind, and say that the reporter agrees only after hours of tortured soul-searching.)

Or imagine a reporter who writes about economic matters. Many of his sources know about developments that have not yet been announced that will have significant economic impacts. If you knew about even one of those developments in advance, you could make a lot of money. A lot. The sources ask only for favorable treatment in the press. Do you think they might find a reporter or two who would be agreeable to a trade of that kind? The reporters can console themselves with the knowledge that their dealings with other sources are unimpeachable. Hey, life is complicated.

You can multiply these examples endlessly. All over Washington, people are making deals and trades all the time. Every once in a while, a "scandal" will be revealed. People, most notably the media, will announce how outrageous it is, and act as if such behavior is extraordinarily rare, just as they have with this story. Those who study and remember history, including recent history, know that trades of all kinds are the lifeblood of government. This is especially true when a government has immense powers and touches every area of life -- our present government, for example. Wouldn't it be fascinating to read a long, long story documenting some of the various kinds of trades and exchanges that are made? The problem, of course, is that the corruption is so all-encompassing that such a story would necessarily expose and damage too many "untouchables," those with sufficient power to ensure that they will never suffer such exposure.

So that is a story you will never see on the front page of The New York Times.

(There will be a third installment. Still more to be said! Meanwhile, a post about some personal matters, and some assistance I could dearly use at the moment, can be read here. ADDED Sunday, July 1: I just published an update regarding my personal situation. This is not a happy time. I understate.)

June 28, 2018

Poverty, Eviction and Other Unwelcome Beasts

I'm in the midst of completing the second part of my article about Watkins-Wolfe, the media (including the NYT), the ruling class, and related matters. My writing legs seem to be functional again, for which I am truly grateful. I expect to publish the next installment later today.

Meanwhile, the long-awaited news has finally been delivered: this apartment building, and the one next door, will be demolished next year. We've been given one-year notice, so we have to vacate our apartments by the end of May 2019. I had thought the notice period was considerably shorter, so I'm relieved that we have the additional time to find new homes. Nonetheless, I'm feeling quite overwhelmed when I think about everything that must be done to accomplish a move. Being old and infirm, and capable of very little in the way of physical labor at this point, it's not yet clear to me how all the required tasks will be fulfilled. I guess the periodic anxiety attacks I've had over the past couple of weeks will simply be another part of my life for the next year.

And then there's the usual monthly anxiety attack, as the first rolls around again and I have to pay another set of bills. (By the way, it appears that the owners of this building will be putting the funds they're required to pay tenants in a forced eviction into escrow accounts, rather than distributing individual checks in one lump sum. I suspect this will complicate my life considerably, and may mean I will have to come up with the money for various expenses in the first instance, and then get reimbursed. But I'll be investigating this, among many other issues, over the next few weeks.)

Anyway, the immediate situation is dire. I am close to completely broke -- just a little money left for food (about a hundred bucks), and nothing for rent, internet, and a few other bills. I've sometimes been a bit casual when asking for donations (I hate doing it, and I hate sounding desperate all the time -- and I'm sure it's not very pleasant for you, either), so let me state clearly that this is very serious. If at all possible, I need to raise the rent money, plus a bit more for internet service and a couple of other indispensable items, by early next week. So I thought I'd better get this post up now and not wait any longer. Since the countdown for eviction has begun, this would be the worst time for me to be late with the rent. It would hand the owners the perfect opportunity to get rid of me without having to pay me a cent.

I would be tremendously grateful for any help you may be able to provide. I truly don't know how to express my gratitude for all your kindnesses over the years; as I've noted many times before, if not for your remarkable generosity and support, I would long ago have ceased to be here, or probably anywhere. And I do have a strong sense that I may finally be returning to writing regularly; at the moment, I'm finding writing to be a wonderful, immensely enjoyable distraction from all these "real-life" problems. If that were to happen, it would be a blessing in the midst of what will undoubtedly be a good deal of chaos (hopefully, managed chaos, but chaos nonetheless).

My deepest thanks, as always, for your patience and interest, and for all your great kindness and support, of all kinds. Words fail. (A frightfully embarrassing admission, to be sure, but there it is.)

June 27, 2018

It's Still Not About the Sex

Back in April 2013, [Ali] Watkins posted a tweet saying: “I wanted to be Zoe Barnes … until episode 4. Sleeping with your source- especially a vindictive congressman?#bad­lifechoice” [Tweet from Ali Watkins dated April 2, 2013]

Referencing the show [House of Cards], where the protagonist Zoe Barnes embarks on an affair with a powerful congressman and uses their romantic relationship to get stories and in turn, a quick rise to the top.

She later questioned whether the character’s sleeping with sources to obtain story ideas was ethical, asking her followers to weigh in.

“So on a scale of 1 to ethical, how does everyone feel about pulling a @RealZoeBarnes for story ideas? #TOTALLY KIDDING @HouseofCards.” [Tweet from Ali Watkins dated June 20, 2013] -- 'I wanted to be Zoe Barnes ... until episode 4. Sleeping with your source.', June 19, 2018
Avoiding conflicts of interest is a basic tenet of journalism, and intimate involvement with a source is considered verboten. -- The New York Times, How an Affair Between a Reporter and a Security Aide Has Rattled Washington Media, June 24, 2018
On the basis of these two brief excerpts, you may think that sex is a major component of the story we will now consider. That's understandable -- but from the perspective I will urge you to consider, it is entirely wrong. If only this were a story about people screwing their brains out in every imaginable way and combination (and in some ways and combinations that many people probably can't imagine), and having a wonderful time, I would rejoice. Our culture would be far healthier and more life-affirming than it is.

But the majority of Americans think that sex -- of almost any kind, perhaps only excepting sex within the "sanctity" of marriage (but even then, please don't go into detail) -- is dirty and disgusting. Simultaneously, most Americans can't get enough of it. They certainly can't get enough of sex itself, and they can't get enough of gossip and talk of any kind, including by our major news outlets, about sex. The ruling class is well aware of the public's obsession with sex, and they are more than happy to indulge it. That is especially true when the ruling class wants to distract the public from genuinely awful behavior and actions that should be of great concern. Give the public a "dirty" sex scandal, with all the salacious detail that the media's "standards" will allow, and the public will ignore everything else.

Who is telling us the Ali Watkins story, spiced with all the titillating nuggets the public so eagerly gobbles up? That's right: the ruling class itself. Note that I include among the ruling class, as we must, the major media. For at least several decades (and if we are to be accurate historically, for much, much longer than that), the major media has made itself the loyal servant of power and privilege. The major media do everything in their power to protect the prerogatives of those in power, including the ruling class's deadly determination to acquire ever greater power and wealth. This is particularly obvious, and especially lethal, when we turn our gaze to those who cover the national government and the ruling class's activities in Washington, D.C.

Note where the Times wants to force our focus. The strategy is announced in the story's headline: How an Affair Between a Reporter and a Security Aide Has Rattled Washington Media. The "affair" is what they want you to think about, and only the affair. Oh, a few members of the public might mention some other points, but almost no one invests a lot of energy in what are considered tangential issues. But I remind you, as I have had occasion to note in the past: "It's not the sex. It's never the sex." (I am sufficiently immodest to note that my analysis in that article, written only hours after the story of Petraeus's "forced resignation" first broke, proved to be entirely correct, including my comments in the concluding section about the likely future of one John Brennan.)

I emphasize that everything we are learning about this story is being told to us by the ruling class via its indispensable toady, the major media. From the point of view of the ruling class itself, the sex is of utterly no significance whatsoever (except for the banal point that they, too, regard sex as dirty and filthy, and want as much of it as they can get). But the ruling class knows full well that if they provide the distraction of sex, the public will enthusiastically run in the wrong direction. The ruling class engages in this venerable exercise in deflection because they know it works. They've seen it work many times before.

Therefore, our task is to shine the brightest light possible on the horrors they hope we will ignore.

It is delicious to contemplate the dilemma confronting The New York Times. The Times' hand was forced by the arrest earlier this month of James Wolfe, the former security director of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Wolfe was charged with lying to FBI agents about his contacts with several journalists. Wolfe's arrest revealed that one of the reporters, with whom he had numerous contacts over a period of roughly three years and with whom he had the affair, was Ali Watkins -- who had begun working for the Times in December 2017. Oops.

So the Times story from a few days ago is the newspaper's attempt to rigorously, candidly, and fully examine Watkins' career, including her relationship with Wolfe. But Watkins' career includes her current stint at the Times itself. How did Watkins come to work at the Times? How much did the Times know about her relationship with Wolfe? When and how did the Times come to learn what it says it now knows about Watkins and her history? Are we to trust the Times to tell us rigorously, candidly, and fully about its own role? The Times obviously thinks we should. In its story, the Times gravely informs us: "Avoiding conflicts of interest is a basic tenet of journalism." Well, maybe it's not that "basic," maybe it's not even a "tenet" (hey, they're just words), at least not when you're scrambling to save whatever is left of your credibility, along with your own ass. Whether what the Times is doing in its coverage of the Watkins story constitutes "journalism," I leave to the reader's best judgment.

Reading the Times story thus becomes an exercise in detection. We must strip away the layers of deceit and manipulation, along with a huge amount of self-delusion, we must identify the questions that remain unanswered, and the questions that are never asked at all. If we are genuinely alert readers, there are still additional complexities that must be taken into account. The Times informs us as follows:
This account is based on interviews with about three dozen friends and colleagues of Ms. Watkins and Mr. Wolfe, many of whom asked for anonymity to speak candidly about sensitive matters. Ms. Watkins declined to speak on the record, but she has shared many details of her experiences with others who spoke with The Times.
It is stating the obvious to note that each and every one of these "friends and colleagues" has loyalties, interests and an agenda of her/his own, all of which assume particular importance when the "friends and colleagues" are speaking to the Times for publication in a high profile story. Is the person a genuine friend of Watkins', who therefore wishes to portray her in the best possible light? Or is the "colleague" someone who is bitterly jealous of Watkins' "meteoric" rise through the world of D.C. journalism, and who would therefore like nothing better than the opportunity to damage her reputation and credibility, perhaps irreparably?

Since "many" of the Times' sources were granted the cloak of anonymity, we have no way to make any of these judgments. We must trust the Times to make these, and many other, determinations -- the oh-so-"disinterested," oh-so-"objective" New York Times, which just happens to be Watkins' current employer, and which more generally also just happens to be thoroughly enmeshed in the government-media D.C. cesspool. Hmm. (The Times notes that Watkins "declined to speak on the record." When other news organizations attempted to reach Watkins for comment, they were told that Watkins was away on a "pre-planned vacation," and therefore apparently unavailable. Now, now, don't laugh so uncontrollably. It makes you appear to be unkind, and it's not polite.)

(To be continued. I expect to complete the second part of this article later today or tomorrow. It's likely a third installment will follow. I'm just getting started.)

June 05, 2018

Of Monstrous Injustice, and the Bizarre

Once again, I must offer my sincere apologies for being absent from this space. The reason for my absence is, yes, you guessed correctly, disgustingly awful bad health. Having a failing body is exhausting and boring. God, is it boring. There are so many things I want to do -- reading, writing, listening to music -- and I can barely summon the strength and focus to do even a small part of it. So I'm bored out of my mind, left to contemplate how shitty I feel -- which not surprisingly tends to make you feel more shitty.

All right. A couple of small pointers I can provide. First, the NYT published an engrossing two-part report about a man convicted of murdering his wife. (Part I, Part II) Exactly how and why he was convicted is fascinating, and absolutely horrifying. The second part of the story, which focuses on the "science" of bloodstain-pattern analysis, reveals the extent to which you can bamboozle people with "expert" witnesses who claim that "science" is on their side. Recall, as just one other example of the same phenomenon, all the "experts" in international relations and foreign policy who regularly and repeatedly offer advice which leads to still more brutality, death and destruction -- all of which inures to the benefit of the ruling class. Odd, how "experts" minted by the ruling class can be relied upon to provide policy prescriptions designed to offer still more power and wealth to the ruling class. Whoever would have expected such a result...

The two-part article is lengthy, but it is unusually well-written. I commend it to your attention. Joe Bryan's story is so compelling that the NYT offered an editorial strongly supporting Bryan's release from prison (Bryan has been imprisoned for 30 years, he is now 77 and suffering from congestive heart failure -- and he most probably did not commit the crime of which he was convicted). At some point, it's very likely I will tease out some of the implications of the article's arguments.

Second, and this falls into the category of strange and bizarre bits of cultural history I hadn't known about, when I was toodling about Youtube last week, I stumbled upon a film I'd never heard of, Gone to Earth. David Selznick was one of the producers, and the 1950 film stars his wife, Jennifer Jones. And the film is a Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger production! (The Red Shoes! Black Narcissus! 'I Know Where I'm Going!') I wondered how I had never heard of this movie, and sat back to enjoy my discovery.

I was transfixed, not by the glory of what I was seeing -- although the treatment of the English countryside is often very glorious -- but by the transcendently, staggeringly, gut-wrenchingly awful performance of Jennifer Jones. Now, I've seen Jones give very bad performances, but this one is genuinely extraordinary. I can't even begin to describe it, and I really shouldn't until I finish watching the film. I got halfway through it; it was very late, I was tired, and I found it a considerable strain to watch this creation that felt as if it had come from another world.

Selznick didn't much like what Powell and Pressburger had done with this project -- so he went to court. The result was Selznick's re-editing and re-release of the film, with a new title: The Wild Heart. The consensus seems to be that Selznick would have been better advised to leave it alone.

I will finish viewing the film sometime this week, and then I'll offer a few more thoughts about it. The story would certainly allow the filmmakers to present a damning indictment of men's cruelty to women, and how men destroy women of unusual qualities. Part of the reason I didn't finish watching it the first time is that it's entirely clear how the film will end -- and it promised to be more depressing than I wanted to deal with. But I shall forge on ... but if you want to see a film that's fascinating simply because it is so bizarre, Gone to Earth may be for you.

So life goes on. I offer all my gratitude to those who made donations in the last couple of months. Your kindness allows me to trudge on -- and I remain convinced that someday, soon, soon I desperately hope, a surge of writing will pour forth from me. I try to gather my strength to hurry that day along.

Because of readers' generosity, I've been able to pay the June rent. But that has cleaned me out -- I now have $60 left. That's it. I have almost no food in the house, and I have nothing with which to pay the internet bill, or the bill for electricity, or a couple of other obligations. Any and all donations will be received with wild, uncontrollable enthusiasm. (Seriously.)

As always, my deep thanks for your attention and your time, and for your kindness, which I receive with a profoundly grateful heart.

May 03, 2018

A Small Window into the Soul's Corruption

At the end of March, The New York Times published a story with several interesting angles, and one startling insight. The fact that the report had a startling aspect seemed to have escaped notice from the writers and editors who worked on the story, which made it additionally intriguing.

The background is laid out in the story's opening paragraphs:
SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook employees were in an uproar on Friday over a leaked 2016 memo from a top executive defending the social network’s growth at any cost — even if it caused deaths from a terrorist attack that was organized on the platform.

In the memo, Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook vice president, wrote, “Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools. And still we connect people. The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good.”

Mr. Bosworth and Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, have since disavowed the memo, which was published on Thursday by BuzzFeed News.
There would certainly appear to be some genuine issues for Facebook employees to be "in an uproar" about. (I understate for effect.) Company well-being and growth (and profits!) at any cost -- even the deaths of innocents in a terrorist attack? Moreover, a terrorist attack that the company itself helped make possible? According to one Facebook vice president, even this scenario is "*de facto* good" from the company's perspective.

It is entirely legitimate -- indeed, it is required, I submit -- to ask if it is permissible, or just simply decent, to work for a company that proudly offers beliefs of this kind. And the NYT story does tell us of one man whose departure from Facebook was precipitated by the Bosworth memo. But that comes at the very end of the report. It's in the middle of the story that the Times buried the startling part.

Immediately after the opening paragraphs set forth above, the NYT offers this:
But the fallout at the Silicon Valley company has been wide. According to two Facebook employees, workers have been calling on internal message boards for a hunt to find those who leak to the media. Some have questioned whether Facebook has been transparent enough with its users and with journalists, said the employees, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. Many are also concerned over what might leak next and are deleting old comments or messages that might come across as controversial or newsworthy, they said.
Several paragraphs later, we are told more along the same theme:
Facebook employees said on Friday that discussions were raging across the company regarding the merits of the post. Some called for executives to aggressively pursue action against those leaking to the media, said two Facebook employees, as well as for the company to do more to screen for potential whistle-blowers during the hiring process.
"a hunt to find those who leak to the media..." "aggressively pursue action against those leaking to the media..." "do more to screen for potential whistle-blowers during the hiring process..."

Confronted with a highly-placed executive who praises even terrorist attacks as "good" if, in his view, they benefit the company, some Facebook employees don't recoil with horror, and perhaps begin to wonder why they are working in such a hellhole. No, their concern is the company's well-being -- and they grasp at protective measures such as "hunts for leakers," "aggressive" punishment, and better screening to identify potential whistle-blowers. If it is true that all that is required for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing, how much easier it is for evil when it has the avid support of employees like this. In this particular case, such comments are made more notable because Bosworth and Zuckerberg immediately disavowed Bosworth's earlier comments.

Now, it may be that the Facebook employees pimping for witch-hunts, severe punishment, and super-screening view those disavowals as essentially meaningless, a conclusion with which I would agree. Of course, they'll disavow the statements causing all the trouble. Bosworth's disavowal was especially inventive: he time-traveled back to when he wrote the controversial memo, and now maintains that "I didn’t agree with [the memo] even when I wrote it.” He merely wanted to stimulate discussion, doncha know. The broader point is that nothing these executives offer for public consumption can be credited, not when they're in the midst of battles over control, market domination, and massive amounts of wealth. If you were to believe their public statements, you'd have to believe that "user privacy" is, like, the most important and tastiest thing in the world to them, dude! But everyone worships at the shrine of user privacy now (the same is true of "transparency"). When everyone worships at the same shrine, it's because the shrine can signify anything, which means that it signifies nothing.

One other passage from the NYT story is worth noting:
In the aftermath, some Facebook executives have taken to Twitter for a public charm offensive, sending pithy phrases and emoticons to reporters who cover the company. Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s head of news feed, in recent days wrote unprompted to a BuzzFeed editor and to its chief executive reminiscing and telling a story about his mother. He also wrote to a reporter from the Verge tech site about the songs played at his wedding reception.
I don't think these people ever left junior high school. I also don't know whether to laugh or cry. These are the people running the world, or a significant part of it. Ponder that. Then maybe laugh and cry. And break a few dishes. A friend of mine used to strongly advise keeping some old, cheap dishes around, just so they might be smashed during tough times. This story might deserve three or four dishes. Maybe five. Well, it couldn't hurt.

In the meantime, don't be a snitch! The company is Life! Everything for the company!

P.S. In rereading this just before publishing, it struck me that Bosworth's explanation of the memo is not entirely implausible. It does have the flavor of, "Now, consider this outlandish perspective just to see where that takes our discussion..." Even if that's true (and I still wouldn't take his word for it), it doesn't alter the numerous additional and odious facts we know about Facebook, and it is entirely irrelevant with regard to the employees advocating witch-hunts for leakers, super-screening for whistle-blowers, etc. So, with this small caveat, I stand by the major arguments offered above.

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I'm sorry to have to bring this up, but I've had almost no response to my recent post. Three people have donated a total of $60; thank you! In a couple of days, I will be in serious trouble. I remain about $450 short of what I need for rent and a few other bills, including internet. If I'm not able to raise it in the next few days, eviction won't be my only problem.

Over the last year, I've learned to eat a decent meal only every other day. On "off" days, I eat, but only a big bunch of crackers, or several slices of bread, things like that. I've had to do that, because I've had less and less money to spend on everything, including food. Right now, I have food for perhaps two or three full meals -- and I tend to hoard that food, because I'm not sure when I'll be able to buy more. I've also been out of some things for a while now -- coffee, soda, milk, fresh vegetables. Poverty absolutely stinks.

Donations will be received with tremendous gratitude. I wrote the above post to show myself, and you, that I can still write and manage to put a few coherent points together. I did find that article interesting, and it was a subject I could deal with in a fairly simple manner, without getting into much more complicated issues. But writing even this has completely exhausted me, and I shall now return to bed for several hours.

As I mentioned the other day, Saturday is my birthday. With some badly needed help, it may yet avoid being one of the grimmer birthdays on record. And I'll look through my notes, and through the news, to find some other topics that lend themselves to comparatively short, simple treatments. I'll try to be back with even a couple of brief posts in the early part of next week.

Many, many thanks for any help you may choose to provide. I am always deeply grateful for the kindness showed by the readers here. Thank you!