Friday, March 31st, 2023


Teflon Gone

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward Rikers. Teflon Don has finally shown a crack in the protective layer that prevented him from being forced to answer for his misdoings. Sadly, so too has cracked the much more porous layer that partially sealed our consciousness from the bombardment of ubiquitous Trump news. American society should have been sentenced to time served. Instead, the story we couldn't shake for four years is back and bigger than ever, and the attention economy will once again be dominated by the orange one, as Americans prepare for a endless White Ford Bronco chase that will take viewers from Mar-a-Lago, to downtown NYC, and very likely to Georgia and DC, where Trump faces far more serious charges. Is the first indictment of a former president a happy occasion? It's as sad as it is anything else as we come to terms with how much damage this presidency did, and continues to do, to the fabric of our nation. Here are a few quick thoughts on the first, but unlikely the last, indictment of a former president.

In certain quarters, the indictment was met with outrage, calls for protests, and attacks on NY DA Alvin Bragg. Forget the fact that these attacks are largely made either out of fear of Trump or a quest for ratings or fundraising dollars. Forget also that these urgent defenses are being made on behalf of twice-impeached guy who refused to accept an election and stirred an insurrection. Instead, consider this: None of the people yelling about the injustice of this case even know what the case is. None of us do. Not even Trump's lawyers have seen the indictment yet.

You'll be hearing a lot of Trump's reactions to the indictment. Pay more attention to reaction come from others, like Ron DeSantis, who said he wouldn't aid in the extradition of Trump from Florida and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy who proclaimed that he will hold Alvin Bragg "and his unprecedented abuse of power to account." Take note: the Trump virus has spread and mutated. The festering, gaping wound that ruptured the body politic is not healed; it's worsening as these enablers add insult to injury.

On what used to be the fringes, the words Soros is code for Jews. Today, the fringes are mainstream as many on the right, including the top two GOP presidential candidates, invoked his name in response to the indictment. Don't ignore what's in front of your face.

I hope we don't see violence as a response to this indictment. But if we do, it will because a former president of the United States is inciting it, just as he incited the violence on Jan 6. And still, one political party is determined to protect him any cost. The big story here, as it was for the four disastrous years of the Trump presidency, is just how broken America is. Tom Nichols in The Atlantic: "Tomorrow, all NYPD officers have reportedly been ordered to be in full uniform and ready to deploy. And again, somehow, we've just accepted this as the new normal. We no longer even blink when New York, a city scarred by multiple terror attacks against its innocent citizens, has to go on alert just to charge Trump with a crime. That one fact, more than any other, tells you how far down the long slide into vice and venality—and violence—Trump has dragged this country."

David Remnick in The New Yorker: "With this indictment, we have entered a new act in the saga, one in which Trump contemplates turning a potential perp walk into a campaign opportunity. Who else could envision fingerprints, a mugshot, and cuffs as tools in an effort to 'consolidate the base'?" An American Tragedy, Act III. (Sadly, this won't be a three-act play. It is an endless 24-hour show, and it just got renewed.)

While we haven't seen the indictment, we know that some of the charges are related to hush money paid to Stormy Daniels. This could be the first time in his life that Trump is associated with the word hush. But that could change after his arraignment in NYC next Tuesday. From then on, a judge decides how far he can go. Bloomberg: Trump Says Whatever He Wants, But a Judge Can Tell Him to Stop.

According to WaPo, Trump and advisers were caught off guard by New York indictment. Trump himself publicly proclaimed that this indictment was coming and yet when it did, it surprised insiders. That's what it's like to hitch your wagon to a chronic liar. Nothing is more surprising than when something he says actually happens.

There's a certain irony that the most boastful man in America could be taken down by a guy named Bragg.

Trump is the first former president to be indicted. But what about sitting presidents? NPR on that time Ulysses S. Grant was arrested for carriage speeding. The arrest took place just after the Civil War, apparently a much less divisive moment in American history since no one accused the arresting officer of being backed by George Soros, the fine was paid, and Grant publicly expressed respect for the officer's decision to arrest him.

Here's the latest from CNN and The Guardian.


Way Apres-Ski

Let's move on to less pressing legal news. It what seemed like a dispute too ridiculous to have made it to a courtroom and that lasted longer than Infinity War, Gwyneth Paltrow wons her ski crash case — and $1 in damages.

+ "A retired optometrist named Terry Sanderson was suing Paltrow for $300,000 in damages, alleging that she ran into him while skiing and caused him severe injuries. Paltrow countersued for $1, contending that Sanderson ran into her, not the other way around. After almost two weeks of incredibly extensive testimony, the jury took only a few hours to deliberate before coming to their verdict. Now Paltrow, whose net worth before the trial was estimated to be $200 million, is $1 richer. Gwynnocent!" Slate: Gwyneth Paltrow won her stupendous skiing trial in more ways than one.

+ People are making glorious memes of Gwyneth Paltrow whispering 'I wish you well' at the end of her trial.


This is What it Sound Like When Foxgloves Cry

"Plants that need water or have recently had their stems cut produce up to roughly 35 sounds per hour, the authors found. But well-hydrated and uncut plants are much quieter, making only about one sound per hour. The reason you have probably never heard a thirsty plant make noise is that the sounds are ultrasonic — about 20–100 kilohertz. That means they are so high-pitched that very few humans could hear them." Stressed Plants ‘Cry'—and Some Animals Can Probably Hear Them. When I was a kid, I was a picky-eating vegetarian who often wondered whether, if you listened closely enough, you could hear lettuce scream when you tore leaves from its head. Now I'm more worried.


Weekend Whats

What to Doc: For a deeply interesting, and somehow completely timely documentary, check out George Carlin's American Dream, directed by Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio on HBO. So good.

+ What to Listen: Boygenius is a supergroup/side-project from Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus. And the sum of the parts is pretty excellent. They have a new album out today, which comes with this 3-song video directed by Kristen Stewart.

+ What to Book: "Cobalt Red is the searing, first-ever exposé of the immense toll taken on the people and environment of the Democratic Republic of the Congo by cobalt mining, as told through the testimonies of the Congolese people themselves." Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives.


Extra, Extra

Cruise Missile: Buzzfeed: "In dozens of court documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News, cruise ship passengers say they have been dragged into cabins and raped, pushed into janitors' closets and assaulted, and even attacked in the public corridors of ships ... sexual assaults are the most prevalent reported crime on cruise ships, according to the FBI. Since 2015, there have been 454 reported allegations of sex crimes on cruise ships. Experts believe that the actual numbers are far higher."

+ Mortality Wound "How could this happen? In a country that prides itself on scientific excellence and innovation, and spends an incredible amount of money on health care, the population keeps dying at younger and younger ages." 'Live free and die?' The sad state of U.S. life expectancy.

+ Paying for Sex: "A Japanese Cabinet minister in charge of tackling the country's declining birthrate unveiled a draft proposal Friday aimed at reversing the downtrend, including increased subsidies for childrearing and education and a salary increase for younger workers."

+ Detained Journalist: "'Evan,' I said out loud in my hotel room. In that moment, this news story moved out of the realm of professional dismay and into the intensely personal." Margaret Sullivan: The arrest of an American journalist in Russia is awful. For me, it's also painfully personal.

+ Non Sei il Benvenuto: ChatGPT banned in Italy over privacy concerns. La discrezione è la virtù dei forti! La vita privata è sacra! (Those were the best two responses I could get from ChatGPT.)

+ Prison Break: "They asked me, 'How did you enter Russia?,' said Ruslan Osadchyi, another Kherson prisoner. 'You brought me here, under the muzzles of automatic guns! ... Like everything in Russia, it was completely absurd.'" NYT: When Russian troops left Kherson, they took with them 2,500 Ukrainian convicts from local prisons. For some, it was the start of a bewildering, five-country journey highlighting the war's absurdity.

+ Food Court of Public Opinion: Fountains of Youths: One grown-ass woman's descent into the soul of the American teen on their home turf: the mall food court. (It's nice to know some things never change.)


Feel Good Friday

"Three days after voting to cease publication and lay off its journalists, the nonprofit publisher of the Texas Observer said on Wednesday that it would change course and keep the 68-year-old liberal magazine going, following an emergency appeal that crowdsourced more than $300,000." Most of this money was raised via a viral campaign on Mastodon. So great.

+ This is the big story in my neck of the woods. From Marin City to the Final Four, Darrion Trammell never gave up his dream.

+ SI: MLB's New Rules Are the Best Thing to Happen to Baseball in a Long Time.

+ Player Adam Wainwright surprised fans and teammates by singing the National Anthem at the Cardinals home opener. Even though he's a pitcher, he wasn't pitchy.

+ One game into the season and we may have our weirdest catch of the season.

+ An 89-year-young surfer lives his best life as he catches a wave.

+ "Kurt Vonnegut, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Bill Walsh were all still alive. We were still four years away from the founding of Instagram, and two years away from the founding of WikiFeet. The Nets still played in New Jersey, the Sonics still played in Seattle, and the Thrashers still played in Atlanta. Global sea levels were about seven centimeters lower." At long, long last, the Sacramento Kings are back in the playoffs. That means it's time to Light the Beam!

+ Almost 20,000 women living in London have joined a club tackling loneliness since pandemic restrictions ended.

+ GPS collars are helping save Sumatra's last wild elephants.