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Links: January 2017

Rob Weychert’s Year in Review

My personal movie-watching stats for 2016, provided by the always delightful Letterboxd.

Why Classic Rock Isn’t What It Used To Be

But do radio stations rely at all on the institutional knowledge of their DJs to decide what to play?

Nope. The role of the song-picking DJ is dead. “I know there are some stations and some companies where if you change a song it’s a fireable offense,” Wellman said, cavalierly ruining the magic.

The Origins of Office Speak

This thoughtful piece by Emma Green traces the origins of buzzwords and the work philosophies they represent.

Some 23,000 employees went through the $40 million training program, learning new terms like task cycle and functioning capabilities that were supposed to help them care more about their work and express themselves more clearly.

Instead, the company’s language became incredibly opaque. For example, its 1987 “statement of principles” defined “interaction” as:

The continuous ability to engage with the connectedness and relatedness that exists and potentially exists, which is essential for the creations necessary to maintain and enhance viability of ourselves and the organization of which we are a part.

In a workplace that’s fundamentally indifferent to your life and its meaning, office speak can help you figure out how you relate to your work—and how your work defines who you are.

Enormous Palette Knife Portraits and Figures by Salman Khoshroo

Gorgeous portraits whose vivid, kinetic impasto strikes a fine balance between abstract and representational.

I totally forgot about print style sheets

Today I learned that CSS can display element attributes.

Printed Links are completely useless if you don’t know where there are leading.

It’s pretty easy to display a links target next to its text.

a[href]:after {
    content: " (" attr(href) ")";

Of course, this will display relative links, absolute links to your site, anchors, etc. as well. Something like this might serve better:

a[href^="http"]:not([href*=""]):after {
    content: " (" attr(href) ")";

Looks insane, I know. These lines mean: Display the value of the href attribute next to every link that has a href attribute, which starts with http, but doesn't have in its value.

The Chosen: Who Trump Is Putting in Power

If you want to add to your collection, there are several new additions to our Trump administration trading cards.


We’re the effigies that haunt America’s nights harder
the longer they spend burning us,
we are scaring the shit out of people by spreading, 
by refusing to die: what are we but a fire?

What Does Donald Trump’s Election Say About America?

This wasn’t some short-lived populist revolt destined to fizzle out in the summer or disorganized anti-establishment rabble, nor was it a catastrophic rending of the Grand Old Party. It wasn’t soul-searching. This was a juggernaut. It was a repudiation by the American electorate of the grand experiment of diversity of the past few years, as symbolized by Barack Obama. It was the half of America, a half that if not bigoted itself seemed mighty fine with being bigotry-adjacent. This is who we are.

Productivity in Terrible Times

Healthy boundaries are an important part of setting up a life of sustainable anger.

Meryl Streep called out Donald Trump at the Golden Globes

“Take your broken heart, make it into art.”

Tom Tomorrow: Obama’s Farewell Address

About That Explosive Trump Story: Take a Deep Breath

If you couldn’t sleep last night, maybe this will help you tonight. Maybe not. Any rest feels like privilege now.

Fox News Settled Sexual Harassment Allegations Against Bill O’Reilly, Documents Show

Any way you slice it, a staggering number of people at Fox News have engaged in harassment and/or extortion.

How American Politics Went Insane

Chaos syndrome is a chronic decline in the political system’s capacity for self-organization. It begins with the weakening of the institutions and brokers—political parties, career politicians, and congressional leaders and committees—that have historically held politicians accountable to one another and prevented everyone in the system from pursuing naked self-interest all the time. As these intermediaries’ influence fades, politicians, activists, and voters all become more individualistic and unaccountable. The system atomizes. Chaos becomes the new normal—both in campaigns and in the government itself.

“In congressional districts across the country, party leaders were able to carefully select candidates who would contribute to the collective good of the ticket,” Carson and Roberts write in their 2013 book, Ambition, Competition, and Electoral Reform: The Politics of Congressional Elections Across Time. “This led to a plentiful supply of quality candidates willing to enter races, since the potential costs of running and losing were largely underwritten by the party organization.” The switch to direct primaries, in which contenders generally self-recruit and succeed or fail on their own account, has produced more oddball and extreme challengers and thereby made general elections less competitive. “A series of reforms that were intended to create more open and less ‘insider’ dominated elections actually produced more entrenched politicians,” Carson and Roberts write. The paradoxical result is that members of Congress today are simultaneously less responsive to mainstream interests and harder to dislodge.

Purist issue groups often have the whip hand now, and unlike the elected bosses of yore, they are accountable only to themselves and are able merely to prevent legislative action, not to organize it.

Campaign-finance rules did stop some egregious transactions, but at a cost: Instead of eliminating money from politics (which is impossible), the rules diverted much of it to private channels. Whereas the parties themselves were once largely responsible for raising and spending political money, in their place has arisen a burgeoning ecology of deep-pocketed donors, super pacs, 501(c)(4)s, and so-called 527 groups that now spend hundreds of millions of dollars each cycle.

Private groups are much harder to regulate, less transparent, and less accountable than are the parties and candidates, who do, at the end of the day, have to face the voters. Because they thrive on purism, protest, and parochialism, the outside groups are driving politics toward polarization, extremism, and short-term gain.

“The idea that Washington would work better if there were TV cameras monitoring every conversation gets it exactly wrong,” the Democratic former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle wrote in 2014, in his foreword to the book City of Rivals. “The lack of opportunities for honest dialogue and creative give-and-take lies at the root of today’s dysfunction.”

Party-dominated nominating processes, soft money, congressional seniority, closed-door negotiations, pork-barrel spending—put each practice under a microscope in isolation, and it seems an unsavory way of doing political business. But sweep them all away, and one finds that business is not getting done at all.

According to polling by Pew, from 2007 to early 2016 the percentage of Americans saying they would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who had been an elected official in Washington for many years than for an outsider candidate more than doubled, from 15 percent to 31 percent. Republican opinion has shifted more sharply still: The percentage of Republicans preferring “new ideas and a different approach” over “experience and a proven record” almost doubled in just the six months from March to September of 2015.

John Kasich described the cycle this way: The people, he said, “want change, and they keep putting outsiders in to bring about the change. Then the change doesn’t come … because we’re putting people in that don’t understand compromise.” Disruption in politics and dysfunction in government reinforce each other. Chaos becomes the new normal.

The public is wedded to an anti-establishment narrative. The political-reform community is invested in direct participation, transparency, fund-raising limits on parties, and other elements of the anti-intermediation worldview. The establishment, to the extent that there still is such a thing, is demoralized and shattered, barely able to muster an argument for its own existence.

You haven’t heard anyone say this, but it’s time someone did: Our most pressing political problem today is that the country abandoned the establishment, not the other way around.

Betsy DeVos Wants to Use America’s Schools to Build “God’s Kingdom”

How the community Betsy DeVos comes from has shaped her troubling positions on education policy.

‘He has this deep fear that he is not a legitimate president’

If Trump fails, America fails. If he succeeds, a lifetime of terrible behavior is vindicated. Lose/lose.

His father and Roy Cohn, those are the two most singular influences on his whole life, and they provided him with a militarized, transactional view of human relationships, business dealings and the law. And he’s going to carry all of that stuff and all of that baggage with him into the White House.

The cabinet appointments seem to me to be people who have been successful in some realm, so he takes that as proof of their abilities. But he’s also looking for people that will be in conflict with everyone in that department. Down the line, it’s the same kind of sowing-conflict mode that he’s used throughout his career of setting people against each other so that they’re not going to be loyal to each other and they’re going to be loyal to him.

He always has an escape hatch. He always builds in some way of justifying not doing the things he’s promised to do on the basis of what someone else has done to him. In this case, it could be Congress, or, “We’re required by the Army manual that governs interrogations to not do this torture. I wish it wasn’t so but, you know, we’re stuck.”

Trump team prepares dramatic cuts

“[T]argeting waste like the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be a good first step…” 🖕🏻🖕🏻🖕🏻

On Punching Nazis

How Louis C.K. Tells a Joke

An outstanding Nerdwriter deconstruction of an outstanding Louis C.K. bit.

The Meaning of ‘Access’ to Health Care

Why Trump’s Staff Is Lying

Ambassadors typically are speaking to more than one audience at once, a lot of context is required to glean the actual meaning, and if they are interpreted in a strictly literal manner (a mistake) it is easy enough to find lots of misdirection in their words. Most of all, ambassadors just won’t voice a lot of sensitive truths.

Arguably those diplomatic proclamations are not lies, but they do bear quite an indirect relationship to the blunt, bare truth. Ambassadors and diplomats behave this way because they seek maximum flexibility in maintaining delicate coalitions of support over the longer run.

A Homebody Finds the Ultimate Home Office

Still, Mr. Trump, who does not read books, is able to end his evenings with plenty of television.

Voxel scenes 2015 - Sir_carma

Trying to get my head around why this kind of work is so appealing to me. I want to believe it’s more than just nostalgia. I just revisited this Shaun Inman post, which gets at part of it: “There’s an unmuddied economy of expression…”

Why the Refugee Vetting Process is Already Too Tough

In all the opposition to Trump’s Islamophobia, I see little mention of how intensive our refugee vetting already is.

Infographic: The Screening Process for Refugee Entry into the United States

More detailed info on our existing refugee vetting process.

The Long Search for a New Home

An excellent explainer on refugee screening. Fun fact: In 2015, only .4% of the world’s 20m refugees were resettled.

How to Build an Autocracy

As one shrewd observer told me on a recent visit, “The benefit of controlling a modern state is less the power to persecute the innocent, more the power to protect the guilty.”

Outside the Islamic world, the 21st century is not an era of ideology. The grand utopian visions of the 19th century have passed out of fashion. The nightmare totalitarian projects of the 20th have been overthrown or have disintegrated, leaving behind only outdated remnants: North Korea, Cuba. What is spreading today is repressive kleptocracy, led by rulers motivated by greed rather than by the deranged idealism of Hitler or Stalin or Mao. Such rulers rely less on terror and more on rule-twisting, the manipulation of information, and the co-optation of elites.

Congress enacts laws, appropriates funds, confirms the president’s appointees. Congress can subpoena records, question officials, and even impeach them. Congress can protect the American system from an overbearing president.

But will it?

Discipline within the congressional ranks will be strictly enforced not only by the party leadership and party donors, but also by the overwhelming influence of Fox News. Trump versus Clinton was not 2016’s only contest between an overbearing man and a restrained woman. Just such a contest was waged at Fox, between Sean Hannity and Megyn Kelly. In both cases, the early indicators seemed to favor the women. Yet in the end it was the men who won, Hannity even more decisively than Trump. Hannity’s show, which became an unapologetic infomercial for Trump, pulled into first place on the network in mid-October. Kelly’s show tumbled to fifth place, behind even The Five, a roundtable program that airs at 5 p.m. Kelly landed on her feet, of course, but Fox learned its lesson: Trump sells; critical coverage does not. Since the election, the network has awarded Kelly’s former 9 p.m. time slot to Tucker Carlson, who is positioning himself as a Trump enthusiast in the Hannity mold.

From the point of view of the typical Republican member of Congress, Fox remains all-powerful: the single most important source of visibility and affirmation with the voters whom a Republican politician cares about. In 2009, in the run-up to the Tea Party insurgency, South Carolina’s Bob Inglis crossed Fox, criticizing Glenn Beck and telling people at a town-hall meeting that they should turn his show off. He was drowned out by booing, and the following year, he lost his primary with only 29 percent of the vote, a crushing repudiation for an incumbent untouched by any scandal.

Fox is reinforced by a carrier fleet of supplementary institutions: super pacs, think tanks, and conservative web and social-media presences, which now include such former pariahs as Breitbart and Alex Jones. So long as the carrier fleet coheres—and unless public opinion turns sharply against the president—oversight of Trump by the Republican congressional majority will very likely be cautious, conditional, and limited.

In the early days of the Trump transition, Nic Dawes, a journalist who has worked in South Africa, delivered an ominous warning to the American media about what to expect. “Get used to being stigmatized as ‘opposition,’ ” he wrote. “The basic idea is simple: to delegitimize accountability journalism by framing it as partisan.”

A would-be kleptocrat is actually better served by spreading cynicism than by deceiving followers with false beliefs: Believers can be disillusioned; people who expect to hear only lies can hardly complain when a lie is exposed. The inculcation of cynicism breaks down the distinction between those forms of media that try their imperfect best to report the truth, and those that purvey falsehoods for reasons of profit or ideology. The New York Times becomes the equivalent of Russia’s RT; The Washington Post of Breitbart; NPR of Infowars.

The lurid mass movements of the 20th century—communist, fascist, and other—have bequeathed to our imaginations an outdated image of what 21st-century authoritarianism might look like.

Whatever else happens, Americans are not going to assemble in parade-ground formations, any more than they will crank a gramophone or dance the turkey trot. In a society where few people walk to work, why mobilize young men in matching shirts to command the streets? If you’re seeking to domineer and bully, you want your storm troopers to go online, where the more important traffic is. Demagogues need no longer stand erect for hours orating into a radio microphone. Tweet lies from a smartphone instead.

Of course we want to believe that everything will turn out all right. In this instance, however, that lovely and customary American assumption itself qualifies as one of the most serious impediments to everything turning out all right. If the story ends without too much harm to the republic, it won’t be because the dangers were imagined, but because citizens resisted.

The years ahead will be years of temptation as well as danger: temptation to seize a rare political opportunity to cram through an agenda that the American majority would normally reject. Who knows when that chance will recur?

Beatings. Stabbings. An Escape. My four months as a private prison guard.

Few of my fellow cadets have traveled farther than nearby Oklahoma. They compare towns by debating the size and quality of their Walmarts.

“I understand it’s your home,” Collinsworth says. “But I’m at work right now.”

“It’s your home for 12 hours a day! You trippin’. You ’bout to do half my time with me. You straight with that?”

“It’s probably true.”

On one wall is a mural of a prison nestled among dark mountains and shrouded in storm clouds, lightning striking the guard towers and an enormous, screeching bald eagle descending with a giant pair of handcuffs in its talons.

CCA and other prison companies have written “occupancy guarantees” into their contracts, requiring states to pay a fee if they cannot provide a certain number of inmates. Two-thirds of the private-prison contracts recently reviewed by the anti-privatization group In the Public Interest had these prisoner quotas. Under CCA’s contract, Winn was guaranteed to be 96 percent full.

For removing a broom from a closet at the wrong time, this inmate will stay in prison an extra 30 days, for which CCA will be paid more than $1,000.