Monday Morning Open Thread: (Fighting for) Respect


(Full clip here; explanation here.)
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Apart from dishing the Grammys, what’s on the agenda as we start another week?

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Meanwhile… “Oh mah garsh, Jethro, it’s a trend!” Will Bunch, in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

There are no sooty coal mines underneath the steep, foliage-shrouded streets of Mount Airy, no Formica-wrapped diner where men in flannel shirts and steel-toed boots load up on painfully bitter coffee and heaping platters of cholesterol while dissecting last night’s Hannity, no driveways where an unemployed factory worker parks his Chevy truck next to a “Make America Great Again” yard sign.

No, life on these blocks centers around a joint on Carpenter Lane called Weavers Way, the venerable corner food co-op that launched in the twilight of the hippie era in 1972, where today senior citizens and young social workers wander down from rambling old-stone houses with their reusable canvas bags to load up on bulk spices, home-baked muffins, or maybe a treat like pumpkin gingersnap ice cream…

Welcome to the throbbing heart of Anti-Trump Country, a land where — if you believe in polls — the majority of Americans reside, and yet a place that the mainstream media seem determined to ignore.

I decided to come to the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhoods of Mount Airy and Germantown after reading the 26th, or maybe it was the 206th, “Report from Trump Country,” where some wire-rimmed reporter from New York or D.C. parachutes into small-town Ohio or Kansas to hang out in a bacon-drenched breakfast spot to discover that the locals who watched six hours of Fox News Channel the night before still love it when Trump blasts the liberal “fake news” on Twitter, no matter how many promises the president breaks on bringing their jobs back or replacing Obamacare with “something really terrific.”…

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Tragic coda, via commentor Gin & Tonic, “Mired in squalor, but still voting for Putin”:

In Soviet times, “monotowns” dedicated to a single industry were part of a proud industrial heritage. Today some are still home to about 14m Russians, or 10% of the population, but many others have been bulldozed and burnt. One of the ghost towns in the far north, Khalmer-Yu, has been used for military target practice. Putin, who relishes any opportunity to show off his manly prowess, went up in a bomber to launch missiles at an abandoned block of flats.

A few brave souls linger in Roza, a former coal-mining town named after Rosa Luxemburg, the German revolutionary. It is perched on the edge of a crater two miles wide. The air is filled with sulphurous smoke from burning subterranean coal seams that have caused land on the edge of the settlement to subside.

More than 4,000 have departed in search of better lives. Most of those who remain are jobless. “People are upset, angry and disappointed,” said Liubov Artiomova, 49, at the counter of the All You Need dress shop. “I rarely get any customers. All we do is exist.”…

Kurdyavtseva, a mineworker’s widow, suffers from severe asthma and her grandson needs to see a dentist — two of his front teeth are black. “There’s no dentist round here,” she said. “And we can’t afford to go anywhere else. All of my pension goes on getting us something to eat.”

She could barely afford to feed the child and her two sons. In spite of the hardship, she will vote for Putin on March 18. “Who else? He gave us a good life in the past. Others have let him down.”

If you’re old, like me, you can probably remember back when it was a point of American pride that even our most isolated, ill-educated hayseeds had an independence unimaginable to the dumb kulaks mooing adulation for whichever Strong Soviet Daddy was standing at the front of today’s parade review…



Sunday Morning Wildlife Chat: Life (or at Least Finches) Will Endure

Quick garden-related note: I’ve already been, shall we say, less than totally successful at cutting back on the number of mail-order tomatoes I put on hold during the dark winter days (and it hasn’t even been much of a winter here north of Boston, just yet). Mostly because of the dozen plants I impulse-ordered during that big Burpee sale, which cost practically nothing if I didn’t pay attention to the time & effort they’ll take to nuture during the growing season. On the other hand, I’ve been thinking about experimenting with putting a few plants in a new location (along the chain-link back fence — severe northern exposure, but taking down our covered porch and the neighbors’ loss of some trees have increased the light levels considerably) and these ‘bargains’ should be good candidates…
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What’s going on with your garden / renovation projects, this week?

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Many thanks to commentor Tenar Arha for this most fascinating Atlantic link — “Urban Bird Feeders Are Changing the Course of Evolution”:

To my knowledge, no one has ever been killed by a plummeting bird feeder. Still, when you live on the 25th floor of a Manhattan high-rise, you can’t hang one outside the window and risk knocking off a pedestrian below…

… I missed a connection to the wild. Seeking a remedy, I discovered a small Maine company called Coveside Conservation Products, which makes a unique “Panoramic in-House Window Bird Feeder.” A semicircular mahogany platform enclosed with plexiglass, the feeder fits into an open window and juts inward, providing a front-row view of birds bold enough to enter. No part of the contraption dangles outside, presumably rendering it safe for urban use.

In reply to my enthusiastic query, however, Coveside’s owner, Jim Turpin, was less than a salesman. “Frankly, I’m not overly optimistic about attracting birds to feed in a high-rise setting,” he wrote, explaining that most species search for food at specific heights. He pointed me to the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, where someone had inquired about luring birds to a 17th-floor balcony. The answer—that attractive foliage can help, but don’t hold your breath—wasn’t promising, considering I don’t have a balcony and scarcely overlook a tree.

Nevertheless, I ordered the feeder, filled it with birdseed, and installed it in my window, where it interrupted the soundproofing, so I found myself working amid a cacophony of sirens and jackhammering. Two hundred and fifty feet above ground—the height of the tallest giant sequoias in the Sierra Nevada—the wind howls more often than not. Despite my best efforts to insulate the edges of the wobbly wooden feeder, freezing January air whistled through the apartment, slamming shut any door left ajar…

Then, one morning in March, as I brewed coffee in the kitchen, Jeff strode into the office and sprang back out again, announcing he’d seen a flash of red. I joined him, and we peered around the door until the startled visitor worked up the courage to return. A cherry gum ball of a head poked up from the ledge and cocked to one side, uttering an inquisitive chirp and inspecting the room from behind plexiglass. Once satisfied that all was clear, a sparrow-size creature with a blushing breast and triangular beak hopped into the feeder. I recognized it immediately as a house finch…

Native to western North America, house finches weren’t introduced to the East Coast until 1939, when a Brooklyn pet shop released a small number that had been illegally trapped in California. Over the next 50 years, these plucky pioneers established a firm footing, spreading across the continent until they reunited with their western cousins on the Great Plains. Today the finches inhabit perhaps the widest ecological range of any living bird, having emigrated from their ancestral deserts all the way to the edges of the subarctic taiga, adapting to suburbs and cities alike…

According to experts, feeding birds is probably the most common way in which people interact with wild animals today. More than 50 million Americans engage in the practice, collectively undertaking an unwitting experiment on a vast scale. Is what we’re doing good or bad for birds? Recently, researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology sought to answer this question, analyzing nearly three decades’ worth of data from a winter-long survey called Project FeederWatch. Preliminary results suggest the species visiting our feeders the most are faring exceptionally well in an age when one-third of the continent’s birds need urgent conservation. Still, what are the consequences of skewing the odds in favor of the small subset of species inclined to eat at feeders? What about when the bird we’re aiding is invasive, like our house finch?…



Excellent Read: “Deep in Clinton country, voters stand by their candidate”

The Washington Post is straight-up trolling the NYTimes here, and it is hilarious:

The pilings of long-gone piers still jut out of the murky Hudson River in New York County, N.Y., reminders of a shipping industry that’s all-but-vanished from the region. There’s almost no manufacturing left in the towering buildings at the southern end of the county where it once thrived. Throughout the area, large warehouses once used for trade have been torn down or repurposed.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that this is the sort of place where Donald Trump would have been successful in the 2016 election. Unless, that is, you know that shipping and manufacturing left New York County a very long time ago. New York County is Manhattan; the warehouses are now art galleries and the skyscrapers where piecemeal manufacturing once took place are now offices and expensive apartments.

Far from backing Trump, Manhattan was one of the most heavily pro-Hillary Clinton counties in the country in 2016, supporting her by a 77-point margin. (In his home county, Trump won only 9.7 percent of the vote; for every 2.6 votes he got, a third-party candidate got one.) We don’t hear much about how Manhattanites have responded to the first year of Trump’s presidency, though, despite how much we’ve heard about how regions central to Trump’s candidacy are still home to people who stand by their choice. There are a lot of reasons for not focusing on the views of people in Manhattan, including that the city is not without a voice in the media and that how it voted was not particularly surprising (compared to the fervent support Trump enjoyed in the Rust Belt).

Nonetheless, we decided to see if voters in Clinton country stood by their candidate one year into Trump’s tenure. We know Trump’s supporters are sticking with him, but are Clinton’s sticking with her? Is Trump convincing any opponents to rally to his cause?
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Saturday Morning “NO WHITE HOUSE” Open Thread

“Politics is the study of who eats… and who gets eaten.” So, when it comes to humans, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid *everything* political. But the Oval Office Firehose of Bullshit can overwhelm the best of us. Also, I keep setting aside interesting articles that never get linked.

So, let’s try a Saturday-morning experiment: How many comments can we thread before somebody Fails to Read the F***ing Header?
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And apart from that one restriction, what’s on the agenda for the day?

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I’ll confess, I always assumed that liquid lead must somehow be poured into cored wooden cylinders, but noooo. Definitely click over for the Christopher Payne photos that go with Sam Anderson’s text:

A pencil is a little wonder-wand: a stick of wood that traces the tiniest motions of your hand as it moves across a surface. I am using one now, making weird little loops and slashes to write these words. As a tool, it is admirably sensitive. The lines it makes can be fat or thin, screams or whispers, blocks of concrete or blades of grass, all depending on changes of pressure so subtle that we would hardly notice them in any other context. (The difference in force between a bold line and nothing at all would hardly tip a domino.) And while a pencil is sophisticated enough to track every gradation of the human hand, it is also simple enough for a toddler to use.

Such radical simplicity is surprisingly complicated to produce. Since 1889, the General Pencil Company has been converting huge quantities of raw materials (wax, paint, cedar planks, graphite) into products you can find, neatly boxed and labeled, in art and office-supply stores across the nation: watercolor pencils, editing pencils, sticks of charcoal, pastel chalks. Even as other factories have chased higher profit margins overseas, General Pencil has stayed put, cranking out thousands upon thousands of writing instruments in the middle of Jersey City…



Brow-Raising Read: “Jared Kushner Is China’s Trump Card”

Few things are more dangerous, in this wicked world, than a stupid rich man who thinks he’s ‘superior’. Adam Entous & Evan Osnos, in the New Yorker:

In early 2017, shortly after Jared Kushner moved into his new office in the West Wing of the White House, he began receiving guests. One visitor who came more than once was Cui Tiankai, the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, a veteran diplomat with a postgraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University. When, during previous Administrations, Cui had visited the White House, his hosts received him with a retinue of China specialists and note-takers. Kushner, President Trump’s thirty-seven-year-old son-in-law and one of his senior advisers, preferred smaller gatherings…

In Kushner, Cui found a confident, attentive, and inexperienced counterpart. The former head of his family’s real-estate empire, which is worth more than a billion dollars, Kushner was intent on bringing a businessman’s sensibility to matters of state. He believed that fresh, confidential relationships could overcome the frustrations of traditional diplomatic bureaucracy. Henry Kissinger, who, in his role as a high-priced international consultant, maintains close relationships in the Chinese hierarchy, had introduced Kushner to Cui during the campaign, and the two met three more times during the transition. In the months after Trump was sworn in, they met more often than Kushner could recall. “Jared became Mr. China,” Michael Pillsbury, a former Pentagon aide on Trump’s transition team, said.

But Cui’s frequent encounters with Kushner made some people in the U.S. government uncomfortable. On at least one occasion, they met alone, which counterintelligence officials considered risky. “There’s nobody else there in the room to verify what was said and what wasn’t, so the Chinese can go back and claim anything,” a former senior U.S. official who was briefed on the meetings said. “I’m sorry, Jared—do you think your background is going to allow you to be able to outsmart the Chinese Ambassador?” Kushner, the official added, “is actually pretty smart. He just has limited life experiences. He was acting with naïveté.”…

Kushner often excluded the government’s top China specialists from his meetings with Cui, a slight that rankled and unnerved the bureaucracy. “He went in utterly unflanked by anyone who could find Beijing on a map,” a former member of the National Security Council said. Some officials who were not invited to Kushner’s sessions or briefed on the outcomes resorted to scouring American intelligence reports to see how Chinese diplomats described their dealings with Kushner. Other U.S. officials spoke to Cui directly about the meetings. Kushner was “their lucky charm,” the former N.S.C. member said. “It was a dream come true. They couldn’t believe he was so compliant.” (A spokesman for Kushner said that none of the China specialists told him that “he shouldn’t be doing it the way he was doing it at the time.”)

[And if they did, he wasn’t listening.]
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Empowering Open Thread: The 2018 Women’s March


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Okay, I got distracted. What I’d been seeing in advance about the 2018 Women’s March wasn’t always encouraging, and there was so much day-to-day churn from the Oval Office occupants. Should’ve known that the #Resistance is deeper and much, much stronger than its opposition…

[T]he energy behind the anti-Donald Trump protests that exploded a year ago, which turned everything from T-shirts to yoga into a form of political “resistance,” has started to coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated political force ahead of November’s midterm elections.

“Last year we marched and we resisted and we organized, and now we’re going to bring that collective power to the polls,” said Bob Bland, co-chair of the Women’s March. “Moving into 2018, we need to look beyond just ‘resistance.'”

This weekend, the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration and the massive Women’s March that followed, there will be more marches — 389 are planned around the world. But organizers this year are more focused on a new political effort dubbed PowerToThePolls, which aims to register 1 million voters and will kick off Sunday in Las Vegas.

In fact, almost everyone involved in the “Resistance,” from scrappy new startups to venerable stalwarts like the American Civil Liberties Union, are turning their focus to the midterms, in which Democrats are trying to seize control of Congress from Republicans.

“Central to our philosophy is fighting the fight at hand. Last year, that was advocacy. This year it’s electoral,” said Ezra Levin, the co-founder of Indivisible, which started as an organizing guide and has since blossomed into a network of hundreds of local groups across the country. “It’s do or die for November.” …

Call it payback, call it a revolution, call it the Pink Wave, inspired by marchers in their magenta hats, and the activism that followed. There is an unprecedented surge of first-time female candidates, overwhelmingly Democratic, running for offices big and small, from the U.S. Senate and state legislatures to local school boards. At least 79 women are exploring runs for governor in 2018, potentially doubling a record for female candidates set in 1994, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. The number of Democratic women likely challenging incumbents in the U.S. House of Representatives is up nearly 350% from 41 women in 2016. Roughly 900 women contacted Emily’s List, which recruits and trains pro-choice Democratic women, about running for office from 2015 to 2016; since President Trump’s election, more than 26,000 women have reached out about launching a campaign. The group had to knock down a wall in its Washington office to make room for more staff.
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Late Night Russiagate Open Thread: (Anti) Social Notes

RUS NEVER SLEEPS! Among the many stories that slip below public purview — but not, one assumes, the eyes of Mueller’s Marauders — when the Repubs are busy manipulating the Toddler-in-Chief…

As questions about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election were beginning to percolate publicly, prominent business leaders and activists from the country attended inaugural festivities, mingling at balls and receptions — at times in proximity to key U.S. political officials.

Their presence caught the attention of counterintelligence officials at the FBI, according to former U.S. officials, although it is not clear which attendees drew U.S. government interest. FBI officials were concerned at the time because some of the figures had surfaced in the agency’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, the officials said.

An FBI spokesman declined to comment on security concerns related to the inauguration. White House officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The Washington Post identified at least half a dozen politically connected Russians who were in Washington on Inauguration Day — including some whose presence has not been previously reported. Among them was Viktor Vekselberg, a tycoon who is closely aligned with Putin’s government…

Other Russian inaugural guests included Boris Titov, a politician and business advocate who is running for president of Russia with the Kremlin’s blessing…

Michael McFaul, who served as ambassador to Russia under Obama, said he did not recall prominent Russian visitors at Obama’s 2009 events. “It’s strange,” McFaul, the director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford, said of the number of influential Russians in attendance last year.

Some Russian guests at Trump’s inauguration said they got tickets through U.S. political contacts.
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