Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Most Beautiful Day Of The Year

OK, some might argue that there were some great winter days, but today was by far the best summer day of the year.  The weekend was cloudy, rainy, some sun poking through the clouds.  Chilly - in the 40s, low 50s.

Yesterday was sunny and much warmer, getting near 60˚F.  But today it said 71˚F on our outdoor thermometer and sitting out on the deck felt decadent.  The leaves are all out.  Some flowers too.



Got up and attacked my to do list.  A couple of unexpected things came up, but got them taken care of too.  One item on the list was to cut the May Day (Choke Cherry) tree flowers so they don't send seeds throughout the yard and neighborhood.  I had discovered - because of the flowers - that we had one way in the back of the yard, on the other side of the fence even.  I cut off all the branches, then cut off all the flowers.  But then I discovered another one near the deck.  These are highly invasive trees that also make moose sick.  I've posted about them before - May Day Tree Invasion - Obvious While Blooming.  

Choke Cherry Flowers 

There were a lot of planes flying over.  The Anchorage Airport FB page explains why:
"Runway 15/33 Closure: The North/South runway will be closed for preventative maintenance with an estimated timeframe from May 8 - 28th, from approximately 8:00am to 7:00pm, Monday through Saturday. This will likely result in more aircraft departures to the East over mid-town Anchorage and more noise impact to the community during those times."

But it was still nice working and reading lazily out on the deck.  

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Some Things I Want To Write About

Our political situation is getting grim.

Democracy works slowly.  I feel like I'm watching a car careening toward a cliff in very slow motion.  We know something has to be done.  Democratic wheels grind slowly though.  And with the added alignment of the House, Senate, and White House, they grind even more slowly.
We're watching disaster happen before our eyes yet it feels like there is nothing we can do about it.  In the short term, for most of us, that's probably true.  This car is going to go over the cliff.  There's going to be a lot of damage.

What we can do is:

  • let the people with power (members of Congress, member of government agencies, people who have influence on members of Congress) know how we feel
  • be models of good human action - take care of ourselves, do work that makes the world better, treat others with respect and decency
  • prepare for the 2018 election.  

But much of our crisis is due to radically different views about how the world works, how people behave, how we 'know' what is good and bad.  It's stuff inside people's brains.

A longer term project is to examine what goes on in the human brain and pursue understandings such as:

  • Our understanding of human economics
    • the Protestant Ethic and the nature of work
    • why work is the basis upon which Americans believe wealth should be distributed?
    • as science leads to more automation that replaces more human workers, what happens to the people displaced by machines?
    • are there other moral and equitable ways to distribute wealth among human beings?
  • Our understanding of human behavior
    • why do people do what they do?
      • the role of genes
      • the role of the environment 
      • the role of belief systems, different ideas of morality
      • the roles of fear, of hope
    • what affects how people behave collectively - in families, communities, in political bodies?
  • Our understanding of government and its relationship with individuals and private organizations
    • government as a concept
    • government as actual human systems
      • conditions where they work well
      • conditions where they don't work well
    • roles of governments and roles of private sector organizations
  • Our understanding of how we know things, how to think, how to solve problems
    • the roles of family, community, religion, schools, media, culture
    • the roles of individual brains
    • the role of emotions
    • how people change their understanding of things

There are a number of collective projects that the people of the United States need to undertake.  (I'll limit myself at this point, but really, this is project the peoples of the world need to engage in.)

  • We need to carry on with the fundamental tasks that allow us all to eat, have shelter, education, health care.  (And as I write this, I'm fully aware that all those needs are not being fulfilled for 'us all.')
  • We need to work on alleviating the fear we have of each other - whether 'the other' is defined in terms of skin tone, gender, religious beliefs, occupation, birthplace, sexual orientation, or any defined outsider from the mental category in which we each see ourselves.  
  • We need to understand ourselves and where our values come from and where our beliefs about how the world works come from.  (Is our knowledge based on what authorities in our lives tell us is so?  Is it based on our own experience?  Is it based on our feelings about things?  Is it based on any sort of rigorous testing of the world itself?)
  • Then we need to compare how we know the world with how others know the world and figure out how to resolve differences.
As you can see, there's a lot to think about, talk about, and do.  A blog may not be the best medium to explore these things.  Or maybe I can figure out how to make it work on a blog.  In a sense I do touch on these things frequently.  But can I do it in a more organized way?  Or are blog posts by necessity too short to take on such complicated and interrelated questions?  

That's where my head is today as our house guest of the last few days headed for the airport and the sun has been out for one of the nicest days of the year so far.  

Being human.  That's a big challenge.  How do we do it while achieving a reasonable level of contentment and doing as little harm to others as possible?  

Rereading this, it sounds so heavy and dry.  But these are some of the fundamental issues that humans must engage to overcome our differences and to find alternative ways to live decently on this planet.  I'll use this as a first draft and guideline.  Maybe I can find ways to engage these topics that are lighter without sacrificing depth.  

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day Thoughts

My wife's uncle is buried in Arlington after a long distinguished military career.

My father and step-father were both WW II veterans.  And there are many men and women who have served valiantly to protect liberty for us and for others.

But we also have to get past our automatic assumption that people who fight in wars are a) heroes and b) fought to keep us free.  Many US interventions in the world have been to protect US business interests, not the least of which, in this case, is the arms industry.  Writing about Memorial Day and those who served in the military honestly and objectively is difficult in the US and in most countries.

As with most public issues in the US today - whether championed by the right or the left - there is plenty of room for reason and logic and dispassion.  With any group that is honored by a society, the military gives refuge to malcontents as well as true patriots.  It's true as well of religion, science, fire and police departments, teachers, doctors, and every other group with more than average status.

Let's remember, clear headedly, those who truly put their lives on the line for justice and freedom and dignity.  That includes those who died and those who survived.  That includes the three who stood up to bigotry on a Portland light-rail train, two of whom died.  Because the media tends to focus on violence, let's also remember that lots of other people have stood up to bigotry and not been killed or hurt.  Standing up for justice has a risk, but most of the time, you don't get killed.  Those who would stand up like that, should know of the countless times people intervene and no violence ensues.  

I've done a number of Memorial Day posts in the past that may be of interest to some.

Memorial Day 2010

What's the Difference Between Memorial Day and Veteran's Day?

Memorial Day Sees Hmong Vets Shut Out of US Veterans Cemeteries That Include POWs

Arlington National Cemetery to Visit Uncle Kermit  (not a Memorial Day post per se, but lots of photos of Arlington)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Dark Pun

Not much screen time today.  Houseguests and a wedding this afternoon.

But this Twitter exchange made me smile.  But I couldn't figure out how to embed just these two tweets (and not all the other responses, or I could get the response without the original.)  So this is a screenshot.

For my visually impaired readers whose computers can't read images, it's a tweet and response.

The Tweet:  Look, we all know that the statisticians are the true Jedi Knights of the science world.
Reply:  Maybe,  But many are of the opinion that statisticians are on the dork side of the force.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

"It is my job, however, to ensure that your personal ambitions are not entirely delusional and do not carry with them an unacceptable cost for everybody else."

War Machine is a new Netflix film about General Stanley McChrystal (called Gen. Glen McMahon in the film, but see note at the bottom.)  He's the general Obama fired after an incendiary 2010 Rolling Stone article, by Michael Hastings.

Whatever you think of War Machine , there's one scene that Americans can only dream about - Tilda Swinton plays a German legislator who questions the general in Berlin.  I've written out this brief (under 4 minutes) interrogation.  (I haven't been able to figure out if something like this actually happened.  The character Michael Hastings is sitting in the audience as well when this takes place, so perhaps it was in the book the movie is based on and comes from an actual event.)

German politician:  General, the US invaded Afghanistan because of the al-Qaeda attacks on September 11th.  This is correct sir?
General:  Yeah
German politician:  You have been speaking to us now for 45 minutes and yet in all of that time you have only mentioned al-Qaeda once.  Your own vice president has advocated a much smaller and simpler counterterrorism approach to incapacitate what is estimated to be  a little more than 100 al-Qaeda fighters that still remain in Afghanistan to refocus on what it was that started this war in the first place.
General:  Ah.
German politician:  Your analysis of the insurgency there  suggests to me there is no monolithic Taliban.  You are spread over the entire country.  You are fighting 1,000 separate battles with locals whose principal ideological position would seem to be simply that they don’t want foreign soldiers in their village.    And that, General, you must know, is a war you will never win.
General:  Ah. Uh, with all due respect, ma’am.  Uh I must beg to differ.  I firmly believe, having traveled to all corners of the country, having spoken with many people from many walks of life . . . that what these people want is the very same thing that you and I want.  Hmmm?  Freedom, security, stability, jobs.  Progress is being made.  Real Progress.  But challenges do remain.
German politician:  Yes, I understand all of that, General.  And . . .and , please let me say quite sincerely that I do not question the goodness of your intent.  I have been listening to you here this morning, and, uh. . . I believe you are a good man.  I do.  What I question is. . . your belief in your power to deliver these things that you describe.  I question your belief in the power of your ideals.
General:  Ah, well. . .

German politician:  I think what I am trying to say, and I apologize, General, if this is sounding impolite, but I question your sense of self. 
General:  I appreciate your commentary.  I do.  But I have a job to do.
German politician:  Yes, I understand, And I also have a job to do.  And I’m trying to do mine.  As an elected representative of the people of Germany, it is my job to ensure that the personal ambitions of those who serve those people are kept in check.  You have devoted your entire life, General, to the fighting of war.  And this situation in Afghanistan, for you, it is the culmination of all your years of training, all your years of ambition.  This is the great moment of your life.
General:  Well. . . .
German politician:  It’s understandable to me that you should have, therefore, a fetish for completion to make your moment glorious.  It is my job, however, to ensure that your personal ambitions are not entirely delusional and do not carry with them an unacceptable cost for everybody else.  (emphasis added.)

The closest we have to someone like this is Elizabeth Warren, though she isn't quite as calm and polite.  And how long do we have to wait for the rest of our Congress to get some backbone and remember who they serve?

I'd note that the Guardian didn't think much about the movie, saying the portrayal of General McChrystal was all wrong.  It had this comment about Tilda Swinton's performance:
"Tilda Swinton has an interesting, if slightly supercilious, cameo as a German politician who questions the general about his personal motivation."

A more positive NY Times review says that another of the characters seems to be Gen. Michael T. Flynn.

I'd note that perhaps the movie makers originally considered actually naming the main character   Gen. Stanley McChrystal.    I say this because when I googled the cast, I got google's quick answer (top in screenshot below) which listed Brad Pitt as "General Stanley McChrystal."  But when you go to the cast listed by IMDb (bottom in screenshot below) Brad Pitt is listed as playing Gen. Glen McMahon.

I can't find anything on line that explains this - whether they were going to use the general's real name and then changed their minds or whether google just messed it up or something else.  

I'd also note that Michael Hastings, the author of the Rolling Stone article and the book this movie comes from, died in a strange car crash in Los Angeles.  A long New York Magazine article examines  Hasting's life and career in an attempt to unearth the cause of the accident, from conspiracy to suicide to accident.  It doesn't declare a cause, but seems to lean towards Hastings being out of control in his life rather than someone tried to kill him.  

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Pope's Gift To Trump

Pope Francis gave President Trump a gift - his encyclical on the climate, which was released in June 2015. The Washington Post highlighted what they identified as "ten key excerpts."  The whole encyclical is 165 pages, so this is obviously a very abbreviated version.  I suspect it would be more likely that Trump would have just read these ten points, than the whole encyclical the Pope gave him.

Most of these are sorely lacking from the public policy debates in the United States, and those that get into our discussions need a lot more thoughtfulness.

Enjoy and think about how we can get this issues considered more there.

1) Climate change has grave implications. “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever,” he writes.
2) Rich countries are destroying poor ones, and the earth is getting warmer. “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming.”
3) Christians have misinterpreted Scripture and “must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”
4) The importance of access to safe drinkable water is “a basic and universal human right.”
5) Technocratic domination leads to the destruction of nature and the exploitation of people, and “by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.”
6) Population control does not address the problems of the poor. “In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life.” And, “Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion.”
7) Gender differences matter, and “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different.”
8) The international community has not acted enough: “recent World Summits on the environment have not lived up to expectations because, due to lack of political will, they were unable to reach truly meaningful and effective global agreements on the environment.” He writes, “the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.”
9) Individuals must act. “An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness,” he writes. We should also consider taking public transit, car-pooling, planting trees, turning off the lights and recycling.
10) By the way, why are we here on Earth in the first place? “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” he writes.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

"Yes, the lips pay, but notice how trumpet players usually have an exaggerated vein going up their forehead." The Costs Of Perfection

I recommend listening to the video while you read this.  (I realize that Coltrane isn't a mass consumption product, but some of my readers must know this music.)

The following comes from an LA Times commentary by The Doors original drummer,  John Densmore, on the price musicians pay to master their craft.  He's also in a documentary coming out on Coltrane.

"Coltrane was one of the first tenor players to switch from the old plastic, black mouthpieces that made Coleman Hawkins famous to the silver metal ones. The old plastic ones were bigger and usually produced a heavy vibrato sound, whereas the new metal ones were smaller and elicited a more narrow tone.
The space for air to come into the horn is smaller (like the trumpet), and the trap of metal mouthpieces is to produce a “cold,” or modern, sound. JC chose to use a No. 5 reed (the wooden piece under the mouthpiece that vibrates), to counteract that problem; No. 5s are very hard pieces of wood.
That forced John to dig deeper into his abdomen for more air, but it produced a warmer sound. Hard work, but he was reaching for something new.
It turned into a simply gorgeous sound, full of empathy, passion and every emotion in the human condition — from the rage over four girls killed in the bombing of a church in a song called “Alabama” to the gentle feeling of photosynthesis in “After the Rain.”
Coltrane is so in my blood. Every time I go outside after a storm, I “hear” that melody."
He acknowledges other occupations also take their toll.  He mentions Sandy Koufax's elbow and offered this tribute to construction workers.  But in the end, he thinks it's worth it.

You know what, though? It’s all worth it. If you have to contort muscles to produce whatever you’re working on, so be it. That’s why high-rise buildings should have a plaque outside on the wall listing all the workers who built those skyscrapers … all of them.
And hopefully readers of this will have a new understanding and respect for the toll musicians pay for the love of their craft.

I've often wondered if the toll many Olympic athletes have to pay, or the children in China who are identified early and plucked out of their families to train to become perfect gymnasts or dancers, is worth it.   Yes, virtuosity is thrilling both for the performer and the audience, but is it worth giving up so much that encompasses being human?  I suspect the answer is different for different people.  We give up some things and gain others.   Many people have developed no skill at all and still live lives of pain, so why not go for it?  Or would we be better off in balance with nature and follow the Greeks' advice on the golden mean?  I think true artists push themselves in their pursuits of perfection.  It's what they have to do.

In any case, think about the people who built that skyscraper, who sewed your pants, worked on your microwave and your cell phone.  And enjoy the music, since it cost the musicians a great deal.

The title quote also comes from the article.

Considering Trump's Lecturing About NATO, Let's Look Again At NATO Expenses And Benefits

Trump apparently took his testosterone supplement today as demonstrated in this video from Politico where he shoves his way to the front of the photo op at NATO.  Or is he just jealous of the attention Montana House candidate Gainforte got for knocking down a reporter?
 He also went on to repeat his demands that all NATO members pay their 2% dues.

I realize that Trump gloms on to simplistic notions like this, but that doesn't mean that the rest of us have to accept his limited grasp of things.

I did some checking on the NATO formula in February of this year in response to a reader comment and it seems appropriate to repost the gist of it again today.  The whole post includes a comment by a reader  who says he was career army including as staff to National Security Council.  This isn't a comprehensive study, but it does raise questions that Trump's simplistic 2% mantra misses.

"NATO -   Basically they all say it’s more complicated than those numbers say:1.  There are different NATO budgets.  One is related to NATO non-military costs and each member pays according to a formula based on its GDP.  In that area, countries are paying pretty much according to the formula. 
2.  The Congressional Research Service says the US gets plenty of benefits from NATO
“DOD has noted that the United States has benefitted from NATO infrastructure support for several military operations, including the 1986 air strike on Libya, Desert Storm, Provide Comfort, Deny Flight, peacekeeping activities in the Balkans, as well as military operations in Afghanistan and training in Iraq. Finally, the Pentagon notes that U.S. companies have been successful in bidding on NSIP [NATO Security Investment Program] contracts.”
3.  When it comes to military contribution, the calculations include the total military expenditures for each country.  Most of the NATO countries only have troops related to Europe and NATO.  The calculation for the US includes all military spending world wide.  It’s true that some of those forces can be brought in, if needed, to deploy in Europe.  But it’s also true that the US troops in Europe are not solely to support NATO.  They can if needed, but they also support US military missions in other places - like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc.  So the calculations of those expenses, which make the US contribution look huge (less than your $700 million figure, but more than your 20% figure), are misleading because those expenses are for much, much more than defense of NATO. "

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Netflix, Race And Gender - Some Really Good Master of None Episodes, Hasan Minhaj, And Midnight Cafe

There are several posts I should have done (and still should do) on the impact of Netflix on my movie viewing.  Succinctly - we've spent a lot less time watching movies in theaters, but we've seen movies and tv shows that offer a much wider view of life, both in the US and beyond, than one normally gets at the cinema.

But I just want to mention a couple Netflix offerings here.  Season 1 of Aziz Ansari's Master of None was a disappointment.  It portrays the life of a Muslim Indian-American.  The topics were good, but it just didn't have the crispness and bite I've come to expect on good Netflix series.

But this second season has a much different tone and I'd like to strongly suggest two episodes:

Season 2 - Episode 6: New York, I Love You

We barely see the main character.  Instead we see glimpses of life in New York from the perspective of people who are outside the normal white, straight, able-bodied mainstream as they deal with life's obstacles because of  being the outside the 'norm.'   It's light, it's well done, and it has an important message for those of us who generally have a 'normal' pass.

Season 2 - Episode 8:  Thanksgiving

Screenshot from Netflix

If you only want to watch one of these episodes, watch this one.  Aziz, in this series, has several close, old friends.  Denise is a black lesbian and up until this episode we didn't know why she was in Dev's (Aziz's character) circle.
This episode corrects that and fills us in on who she is.  It covers a number of Thanksgiving dinners from the early 1990's (the second one is dated 1995, and I would guess Dev was about 8 or 9 in the first one) until the present.   Dev was over because his family didn't really celebrate Thanksgiving, so Denise's mother invited him over for every Thanksgiving.  We watch the two kids grow up together, including Denise coming out to Dev, and then her mom.  And how that first Thanksgiving after she comes out is very awkward and how over the years the family becomes comfortable with her orientation and even her girlfriend.  It's a wonderful show that takes on its own unique structure - compared to the the other episodes (except episode 2) which more or less follow a typical sitcom story arc.   A very insightful episode.  

Screenshot from Netflix
Hasan Minhaj - Homecoming King

Netflix filmed Daily Show correspondent, Hasan Minhaj's comedy show, at his performance in  Davis, California, where he was born and raised.  The audience is very supportive.  Basically, he talks about how he became a comedian and all the bumps along the way as the US born son of Indian immigrants living in a mostly white area.  There's a lot of humor and understanding to help us understand the anger he felt because of the way he was treated because he wasn't white.  Again, insightful, and something white Americans should watch.

Is it a coincidence that Netflix has these two shows (Minhaj is just a single show, not a series) starring Muslim Indian-Amricans?  (I'd love to track that down, but a quick online search didn't find the answer and if I'm going to get anything up today, that will have to be left for someone else.)

If you need to know more, Newsweek reviews Homecoming King in detail.

And don't miss Midnight Diner

Screenshot from Netflix
I also have to mention Midnight Diner - Tokyo Stories.  This is a gem of a show with short, poignant episodes that give us glimpses into the lives of ordinary folks in Tokyo who work late and stop at the Midnight Diner on the way home.  Each episode tells the story of a different person.  As it tells their stories, it also reminds us that people are people everywhere - they just dress and speak differently, but under all the cultural camouflage, they're just human beings with the same kinds of needs and dreams and foibles of humans everywhere.  This is such a charming show and each episode just takes 20 minutes or so.  And the music is good.

Of course, you have to subscribe to Netflix, or know someone who does, to watch these.  I resisted long enough and only joined so I could show my mom a movie, which turned out not to be on Netflix.  But there were other good movies she enjoyed.  And at about $9 per month (for online only, including dvd's is a little more), it's less than the price of one person at most theaters for one viewing. (Yes, I know, Anchorage's great Bear Tooth theater is less.)

There are lots and lots of interesting movies on Netflix, including many international films and television shows that give you a very different view of the world.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Sen Dan Sullivan Game For Town Hall, But Long On Platitudes, Short On Specifics

I went to Saturday afternoon's town hall with Senator Dan Sullivan.  He's the only one of our three
congressional delegates who was willing to meet with the public like this in Anchorage during this recess period.  And I want to thank him.

I ended up recording most of the town hall.  But my computer rebelled when i tried to load all the video to iMovie.  I negotiated with my laptop and it allowed me this 9 minute bit of video from Sullivan's report that preceded the Q & A.

I think this video does a reasonable job of portraying how Sullivan and the audience interacted.  The majority were clearly opposed to what Sullivan stands for.  Most of the questions were about health care  - the first person asking if Sullivan knew how much it cost to have a baby in Anchorage and that pregnancy was defined as a pre-existing condition by the new House ACA replacement bill.  The green and red pieces of paper people held up to show their approval or disapproval of what was being said, were predominantly not with Sullivan.

These were people who were very concerned about health care and strongly opposed to how the Republicans want to deal with ACA.  They were boisterous, but for the most part respectful.  The shouting and occasional chanting (particularly 'single payer, single payer') did not feel like disrespect as much as people wanting to be heard.  They wanted him to listen to them as much, if not more, than they wanted to listen to him.   The only person I thought sounded clearly disrespectful was someone near me who several times shouted out for people to 'shut up.'

I thought Sullivan came across as sincere and likable as a person, and he didn't have to hold this town hall, he also came across as someone with firm beliefs and people weren't going to change his mind on key things.  In some cases it seems key terms meant one thing to the audience and something else to Sullivan.  More exchange might have cleared that up.  And the audience's use of their red and green cards did seem to get his attention.  Several times he said things like, "I know I'm going to see lots of red cards when I say this. . ."  Like many in today's polarized political map, liberals as well as conservatives, I just don't think he gets to hear in depth from people who don't agree with him.  He mostly hangs out with people who do, or whose differences are even further to the right.  It might be easier to have eight of these people from the town hall get to spend several hours talking to Sullivan over dinner rather than in this giant room.

This was in the Bartlett High School auditorium which Leslie at the Anchorage School District told me has a capacity of 628 people.  (East High is 693 and West is 1918)  I'd guess it was 70-80% full, maybe more.  I took this picture (well, it's two pictures merged) about ten minutes before it started.

You can judge the audience's respectfulness yourself on the video.  You can also check my impression that Sullivan tended toward generalities and platitudes and when he does use numbers they sound like they come from talking points to prove his position.

For instance, his answer to people calling for 'single payer' was 'no, because one size doesn't fit all."  And thus, the states should run their own programs, not the feds.  These answers don't inspire confidence of his understanding of all sides of the issue.

Or he argues that "we've had a flat economy, literally, for nearly 15 years."

Screen shot from Statista
Well, here's a chart of GDP growth (click on it to enlarge and focus).  Flat?  Maybe if you average all the years, but it sure looks like there are a lot of ups and downs.  We can see things hovered around 4% when Clinton was president, then dropped precipitously when Bush came in.  And Bush left Obama with a huge hole to fill.  There's a nearly 5% increase from 2009 to 2010.  He also doesn't mention how Obama was never given a chance to prove his policies because Congress stonewalled him after 2010.

That chart and others on GDP growth don't support his claim that the GDP didn't hit 3% in the last 15 years.  The only sources that suggest  that ("Barack Obama Will Be The Only President In History To Never Have A Year Of 3% GDP Growth") came from sites like Zerohedge  about which Wikipedia says:
"Zero Hedge's content has been classified as conspiratorialanti-establishment, and economically pessimistic,[3] and has been criticized for presenting extreme and sometimes pro-Russian views.[1][4][5]"
The Wikipedia entry goes on to say it was founded by a Bulgarian-born hedge-fund trader who was barred for insider trading and that the site is registered in Bulgaria.

And then he talks about the US's $20 trillion debt as if it were the approaching apocalypse.  Yet this Business Insider article suggests it's not such a big deal.  I'd need to do more homework on this, but I'm inclined to be skeptical about the ominous importance Sullivan puts on this.  Is this a reason to cut the government or and excuse to cut it?  And if the debt is so horrendous, why aren't Republicans considering ways to increase our revenues other than cutting taxes ('to stimulate the economy").  And why does Sullivan then tout the highway bill that spends $500 million + $50 million more each year for five years?   That will just add to the deficit.

To Sullivan's credit, when people challenged his claim that the US had the highest corporate taxes in the developed world, he backed off and admitted that because of various deductions and loopholes, corporations don't actually pay that rate.  But if he knew that, why did he make the misleading statement in the first place?   This article confirms that the effective corporate tax rate is much lower..

I don't have time to fact check the whole town hall - I'm having way too much trouble even getting the video of the whole thing on my computer - but these few items that jumped out at me as squishy and proved to be so suggest other facts he cited are likely either questionable or misleading also.

You can listen to this part of the town hall.  The questions - which I don't have on here - got more boisterous and many people seemed to be much more up on the facts than was Sullivan.

Here's my attempted transcript of the audio.  I just cannot figure out what exactly he said in some parts.  If you can, let me know in the comments.

"I wanted to update on what’s going on. As you know it’s a chaotic time right now.  The three areas that I want to talk about, that I focused on a lot, and I think most Alaskans want us to focus on
  • Economy
  • National security and defense
  • And assisting people who need help [This part is not on the video - he talks mainly about sexual assault and rape victims..]
CROWD:  Health Care!
First, growing the economy.  Right now, we’re in recession in Alaska.  For me that’s the number one thing we can be focused on.    Right now, in the US, we’ve had a flat economy literally for almost 15 years.  That’s not good.
Crowd rumbling and red cards up.
So what I’ve been trying to do is focus on growing the US economy. Critical.  Your ??? has not hit 3% GDP growth in almost 15 years.  That’s a problem.  Everyone in here, I’d hope, believes we need strong growth and that’s a important.  If we’re growing, some of our bigger challenges we have in the state, we have in the country, we can tackle.  If we’re growing at 1%, 1.5% we’ll have hard times with almost everything.  Let me give you one example that I know nobody is going to ask me, but it’s a huge issue I’m focused on.  Right now we have a $20 trillion debt. 20 trillion.  ??? I have kids, ??all of you have kids,  grandkids, if we don’t start growing the economy, on that issue we’re going to be the first generation that have left our kids and grandkids in much worse shape.  $20 trillion we’ve got to focus on.
Crowd noise
C’mon guys, listen.  Let’s try to keep, let me make my statement ????? and if you want to ask questions ?????
Let me tell you what we’re trying to do to grow the economy.
First, we just past, last year, a five year long term highway bill.  That’s going to bring hundreds of millions, $500 million, each year it goes up about $50 million, $500, $550, $600, $650 over the next five years.  That’s really important for the state,  ??? bi-partisan  President Obama signed it
The other thing we’ve been on is rolling back what I think are onerous regulations on the economy.
Crowd noisy.
Hey, come on.  Don’t be the first group that doesn’t show respect.
In the Congress we’ve used the Congressional Review Act to roll back previously issued regulations.
Lots of crowd noise
And in my  ???? focus on that.  And I think this goes to growing the economy - very important
Another area we’re focused on is fisheries.  Right now I chair the Subcommittee [on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Coast Guard] fisheries for the US.  We’ve just passed out of committee a Coast Guard bill that has a lot of important stuff in it for Alaska.  We also passed out of committee,, these are all very bi-partisan,  Save our Seas Act  with Sen. Whitehouse on ocean debris, ocean plastics to make sure we’ll be able to clean up our oceans.    We had really good success getting federal land to Alaska, very important issue, not huge amounts, even this town Anchorage10 acres to Anchorage just been sitting there, for years, Senators for Alaska have been trying to get it for decades,
these are things I think all grow the economy.  It’s very important we should diversify the economy.  No doubt??   telecom, tourism, ??? economy, aviation.  But I will say this. I’m sure I will get some red cards on this I flatly believe it is bad for the state and bad for the country this movement you see in Washington, in the country, some parts of Alaska, to “keep it in the ground.”  I’m sure most Alaskans agree with me on that.
Crowd noises
I’m sure some of you won’t agree with me on that.
Let me go to the next two  - strong military, strong national defense.
When you pick up the paper there’s a lot of national security challenges - North Korea, Iran, Russia, ‘
Crowd noises
You guys crack me up.
I’d like to say right now…. one of the things for our state I think is important is that it is being recognized more and more in Washington that Alaska constitutes what I’d say are three pillars of America’s military power.  We’re the cornerstone of missile defense and that’s really important right now, given North Korean threat, the increasing Iran threat, if one of these rogue nations  [?shoots a missile ???]….. anywhere in America, it could be Alaska, it could be New York, LA, it’s our men and women in uniform in Alaska that are charged with the capability to track that, shoot it down.  You should all be proud of that.
I’ve got a bill that I plan to introduce next week that would actually make our missile defense even more robust. Very bi-partisan, most Democrats and Republicans recognize that we have to do more on missile defense.  Kim Jong-un is gonna have a missile in the next couple of years, an intercontinental ballistic, nuclear missile, that could hit, ???a city in the ?? range to the United States.  That’s a serious thing.  We need to do more to protect the homeland.  That’s all based here and is something you should be very proud of.
The second pillar is we’re the hub of air combat power. With the F-22s here at JBER, F-35’s coming to Eilson with a whole ‘nother amount of aircraft that we have throughout the state and the training we have here.  We have more aircraft and assets to protect our nation’s interest in the Pacific and the Arctic than any place in the world and that’s gonna increase and that’s important.
And finally, we’re platform for expeditionary forces because of our strategic location to be able to deploy anywhere on a moment’s notice.  In Fairbanks, that’s the first Stryker Brigade, it’s the many men and women in the reserves, and Army National Guard, and it’s called the 425 here, based at JBER and I’ll tell you one of the things I worked harder on than anything in my first year in the Senate.  When I got into office, the previous administration said they were going to get rid of those 5000 men and women who constitute the only airborne brigade team in the entire Asia Pacific and the entire Arctic. And we fought that.  Tooth and nail.  And they’re here and they’re great men and women and we should all be proud of them.  A final note on our military authority story?   …..  there’s no where in the world, and I’m not saying this because I’m your senator, that has a stronger support for their military, than the communities in Alaska."

As for questions, well, if you wanted to ask one you wrote your name on a piece of white paper, maybe 2 inches by 1/2 inch.  These all went into a huge jar.  You can see from the picture that the odds of being called were pretty low.

And most of the questions were about health care.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Dandelions: Free, Nutritious, and Abundant Veggie

The Boreal Herbal:  Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North has renewed my commitment to take advantage of the free, no effort crops growing in my back yard.  Dandelions are the most productive such crop.  So while the dandelions are still young and fresh, I've been incorporating some into my daily meals.  Here's from breakfast yesterday.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Alaska And Radio History Dramatically Fused: 99% Invisible's Show On Gene Chance

The Alaska Press Club tweeted a link to 99% Invisible's show about Gene Chance and the Alaska earthquake of 1964.   For good reason.  This is a great show.  Partly, of course, because it's about one of the most important events in our state history.  But it's also a story about the power of radio.

Just click the link and listen.  (I don't see a way to embed this here.)

Screen Shot from 99% Invisible

I'd note that while this show is focused on Anchorage, but the earthquake was centered 75 miles away and most of the deaths were due to tsunamis that followed.  Accounts I find online vary and don't identify Anchorage deaths which were low because no tsunamis hit Anchorage.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) splits the total deaths and tsunami deaths.
The quake took 131 lives and caused $350-500 million in property damage (One hundred twenty-two of the deaths were attributed to the tsunami.) The area of the damage zone (50,000 square miles) and the duration of the quake (3 to 4 minutes) were extraordinary.
(You might also note that NOAA says it lasted 3-4 minutes while the 99% Invisible story says 5 minutes.)

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Earthquake Center splits between the Alaska and Outside deaths:
"The number of deaths from the earthquake totalled 131; 115 in Alaska and 16 in Oregon and California. The death toll was extrememly small for a quake of this magnitude due to low population density, the time of day and the fact that it was a holiday, and the type of material used to construct many buildings (wood)."
For another first hand account, see Anchorage cartoonist Peter Dunlap-Shoal's 2007 animated video which recreates his experience as a five year old when the earthquake struck.

For a lot of pictures of the earthquake, see this USGS site.

PHLEGM - A Word Designed To Give English Spelling Rules The Finger

I searched the blog and there seems to be only one post that uses the word 'phlegm.'  I mention only in passing and when on to other topics.
"My body is mostly back to normal, but there are still insurgents hiding, taking advantage of any weak points they can find.  Fortunately for you, the Film Festival kept me too busy to do a post on phlegm."
Well, the film festival is in December, so this time phlegm gets its own post - in terms of its bodily functions as well as its spelling peculiarity.

Web MD tells us mucus is good for us:
"Mucus-producing tissue lines the mouth, nose, sinuses, throat, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract. Mucus acts as a protective blanket over these surfaces, preventing the tissue underneath from drying out. "You have to keep them moist, otherwise they'll get dry and crack, and you'll have a chink in the armor," says Neil L. Kao, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. 
Mucus also acts as a sort of flypaper, trapping unwanted substances like bacteria and dust before they can get into the body -- particularly the sensitive airways. "You want to keep that environment, which is a sterile environment," free of gunk, says Johns. "Mucus is kind of sticky and thick. It's got viscosity to it that will trap things."
But mucus is more than just sticky goo. It also contains antibodies that help the body recognize invaders like bacteria and viruses, enzymes that kill the invaders it traps, protein to make the mucus gooey and stringy and very inhospitable, and a variety of cells, among other things."
In some ways, mucus is like government, we don't notice what it's doing for us most of the time.  We only pay attention when something's wrong:
"Even when you're healthy, your body is a mucus-making machine, churning out about 1 to 1.5 liters of the stuff every day. Most of that mucus trickles down your throat and you don't even notice it."
There's a lot more at the link, particularly about when mucus becomes phlegm.  An alternative site is My Sinus Story which basically tells the same story but with what seems like a bit more detail.

And about spelling.  When I googled for words with silent 'g' I got a list 18 words that included words that started with 'gn' (i.e. gnat,  gnash, etc.) and those that had 'gn' elsewhere (align, benign).    So I asked for words with silent g before m.  I got a website dedicated to Silent Letters in the English Language.
"When ‘g’ is before ‘m’ in the same syllable, it is generally silent. Some of the words are:
There are 514 Words that contain ‘gm’. However ‘g’ is silent in the following words, only:
apothegm(n), diaphragm(n), epiphragm(n), paradigm(n), phlegm(n), phlegmy(adj)."

I would note that while I have found the various forms of my phlegm this week to be interesting, I also feel there's enough of an ick factor that I took no pictures and thus offer you none.  But we should be able to confront all aspects of our body as something of interest to study, don't you think?  

Thursday, May 18, 2017

What Does The Law Say About Special Counsels?

It's pretty short and easy to read.  There are ten sections, not more than four paragraphs each.  You can read it yourself - courtesy of Cornell University Law School.

§ 600.1 Grounds for appointing a Special Counsel.The Attorney General, or in cases in which the Attorney General is recused, the Acting Attorney General, will appoint a Special Counsel when he or she determines that criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted and -
(a) That investigation or prosecution of that person or matter by a United States Attorney's Office or litigating Division of the Department of Justice would present a conflict of interest for the Department or other extraordinary circumstances; and
(b) That under the circumstances, it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility for the matter.

§ 600.2 Alternatives available to the Attorney General.When matters are brought to the attention of the Attorney General that might warrant consideration of appointment of a Special Counsel, the Attorney General may:
(a) Appoint a Special Counsel;
(b) Direct that an initial investigation, consisting of such factual inquiry or legal research as the Attorney General deems appropriate, be conducted in order to better inform the decision; or
(c) Conclude that under the circumstances of the matter, the public interest would not be served by removing the investigation from the normal processes of the Department, and that the appropriate component of the Department should handle the matter. If the Attorney General reaches this conclusion, he or she may direct that appropriate steps be taken to mitigate any conflicts of interest, such as recusal of particular officials. 
§ 600.3 Qualifications of the Special Counsel.(a) An individual named as Special Counsel shall be a lawyer with a reputation for integrity and impartial decisionmaking, and with appropriate experience to ensure both that the investigation will be conducted ably, expeditiously and thoroughly, and that investigative and prosecutorial decisions will be supported by an informed understanding of the criminal law and Department of Justice policies. The Special Counsel shall be selected from outside the United States Government. Special Counsels shall agree that their responsibilities as Special Counsel shall take first precedence in their professional lives, and that it may be necessary to devote their full time to the investigation, depending on its complexity and the stage of the investigation.
(b) The Attorney General shall consult with the Assistant Attorney General for Administration to ensure an appropriate method of appointment, and to ensure that a Special Counsel undergoes an appropriate background investigation and a detailed review of ethics and conflicts of interest issues. A Special Counsel shall be appointed as a “confidential employee” as defined in 5 U.S.C. 7511(b)(2)(C). 
§ 600.4 Jurisdiction.(a)Original jurisdiction. The jurisdiction of a Special Counsel shall be established by the Attorney General. The Special Counsel will be provided with a specific factual statement of the matter to be investigated. The jurisdiction of a Special Counsel shall also include the authority to investigate and prosecute federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel's investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses; and to conduct appeals arising out of the matter being investigated and/or prosecuted.
(b)Additional jurisdiction. If in the course of his or her investigation the Special Counsel concludes that additional jurisdiction beyond that specified in his or her original jurisdiction is necessary in order to fully investigate and resolve the matters assigned, or to investigate new matters that come to light in the course of his or her investigation, he or she shall consult with the Attorney General, who will determine whether to include the additional matters within the Special Counsel's jurisdiction or assign them elsewhere.
(c)Civil and administrative jurisdiction. If in the course of his or her investigation the Special Counsel determines that administrative remedies, civil sanctions or other governmental action outside the criminal justice system might be appropriate, he or she shall consult with the Attorney General with respect to the appropriate component to take any necessary action. A Special Counsel shall not have civil or administrative authority unless specifically granted such jurisdiction by the Attorney General. 
§ 600.5 Staff.A Special Counsel may request the assignment of appropriate Department employees to assist the Special Counsel. The Department shall gather and provide the Special Counsel with the names and resumes of appropriate personnel available for detail. The Special Counsel may also request the detail of specific employees, and the office for which the designated employee works shall make reasonable efforts to accommodate the request. The Special Counsel shall assign the duties and supervise the work of such employees while they are assigned to the Special Counsel. If necessary, the Special Counsel may request that additional personnel be hired or assigned from outside the Department. All personnel in the Department shall cooperate to the fullest extent possible with the Special Counsel. 
§ 600.6 Powers and authority.Subject to the limitations in the following paragraphs, the Special Counsel shall exercise, within the scope of his or her jurisdiction, the full power and independent authority to exercise all investigative and prosecutorial functions of any United States Attorney. Except as provided in this part, the Special Counsel shall determine whether and to what extent to inform or consult with the Attorney General or others within the Department about the conduct of his or her duties and responsibilities. 
§ 600.7 Conduct and accountability.(a) A Special Counsel shall comply with the rules, regulations, procedures, practices and policies of the Department of Justice. He or she shall consult with appropriate offices within the Department for guidance with respect to established practices, policies and procedures of the Department, including ethics and security regulations and procedures. Should the Special Counsel conclude that the extraordinary circumstances of any particular decision would render compliance with required review and approval procedures by the designated Departmental component inappropriate, he or she may consult directly with the Attorney General.
(b) The Special Counsel shall not be subject to the day-to-day supervision of any official of the Department. However, the Attorney General may request that the Special Counsel provide an explanation for any investigative or prosecutorial step, and may after review conclude that the action is so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued. In conducting that review, the Attorney General will give great weight to the views of the Special Counsel. If the Attorney General concludes that a proposed action by a Special Counsel should not be pursued, the Attorney General shall notify Congress as specified in § 600.9(a)(3).
(c) The Special Counsel and staff shall be subject to disciplinary action for misconduct and breach of ethical duties under the same standards and to the same extent as are other employees of the Department of Justice. Inquiries into such matters shall be handled through the appropriate office of the Department upon the approval of the Attorney General.
(d) The Special Counsel may be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General. The Attorney General may remove a Special Counsel for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies. The Attorney General shall inform the Special Counsel in writing of the specific reason for his or her removal. 
§ 600.8 Notification and reports by the Special Counsel.(a)Budget.
(1) A Special Counsel shall be provided all appropriate resources by the Department of Justice. Within the first 60 days of his or her appointment, the Special Counsel shall develop a proposed budget for the current fiscal year with the assistance of the Justice Management Division for the Attorney General's review and approval. Based on the proposal, the Attorney General shall establish a budget for the operations of the Special Counsel. The budget shall include a request for assignment of personnel, with a description of the qualifications needed.
(2) Thereafter, 90 days before the beginning of each fiscal year, the Special Counsel shall report to the Attorney General the status of the investigation, and provide a budget request for the following year. The Attorney General shall determine whether the investigation should continue and, if so, establish the budget for the next year.
(b)Notification of significant events. The Special Counsel shall notify the Attorney General of events in the course of his or her investigation in conformity with the Departmental guidelines with respect to Urgent Reports.
(c)Closing documentation. At the conclusion of the Special Counsel's work, he or she shall provide the Attorney General with a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel.

§ 600.9 Notification and reports by the Attorney General.
(a) The Attorney General will notify the Chairman and Ranking Minority Member of the Judiciary Committees of each House of Congress, with an explanation for each action -
(1) Upon appointing a Special Counsel;
(2) Upon removing any Special Counsel; and
(3) Upon conclusion of the Special Counsels investigation, including, to the extent consistent with applicable law, a description and explanation of instances (if any) in which the Attorney General concluded that a proposed action by a Special Counsel was so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued.
(b) The notification requirement in paragraph (a)(1) of this section may be tolled by the Attorney General upon a finding that legitimate investigative or privacy concerns require confidentiality. At such time as confidentiality is no longer needed, the notification will be provided.
(c) The Attorney General may determine that public release of these reports would be in the public interest, to the extent that release would comply with applicable legal restrictions. All other releases of information by any Department of Justice employee, including the Special Counsel and staff, concerning matters handled by Special Counsels shall be governed by the generally applicable Departmental guidelines concerning public comment with respect to any criminal investigation, and relevant law.
§ 600.10 No creation of rights.
The regulations in this part are not intended to, do not, and may not be relied upon to create any rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or equity, by any person or entity, in any matter, civil, criminal, or administrative.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Two Takes On McMaster's Defense Of Trump - Both Acknowledge He Spoke In Code And Translate

Part 1:  Washington Post writer Glenn Kessler examines National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster's handling of media questions about the President's revealing of classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador.  
"When a White House is confronted with a negative news story, officials face a difficult challenge if the story is largely correct. A common PR technique is to deny things that are not in the story or to make sweeping declarations while ignoring the specifics." (emphasis added)
Kessler goes on to interpret different answers McMaster gave and what it actually means.  For example, here's the first quote:

What McMaster said:
“'What I’m saying is really the premise of that article is false, that in any way the president had a conversation that was inappropriate or that resulted in any kind of lapse in national security.' 
What Kessler says it means:
Now McMaster says the “premise” of the article is false. In other words, it made the president look bad, not that it was wrong." 
Kessler is using McMaster to generalize about how to obfuscate when the telling the truth isn't allowed.  You can read  all the examples at the Washington Post. This is a good lesson on interpreting those hired to defend the indefensible.

Part 2:  For a different take on this, more of a defense of McMaster, listen to NPR, where  Retired Lt. Col. John Nagl talks to host Rachel Martin about McMaster whom Nagl says he knows well from working together in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This interview itself is an interesting exercise as Nagl argues that McMaster is
  • in an impossible position
  • defending the indefensible
  • lending his credibility to the president
  • not telling the whole truth, but not lying either
  • tarnishing his reputation only because the fate of the world could depend on it
 Below is the audio, and below that I wrote out a rough transcript of the interview.  But first a few comments.

Kessler, in the beginning of this post, parsed McMaster's words.  I think it's also important to do the same with Nagl's words  about McMaster and Nagl's intent in this interview.

On a general level - what is Nagl's purpose here?
  • to defend McMaster?  In general, or to a defend a personal friend's reputation?
  • to give the general listeners background so they can better understand McMaster?  
  • to say McMaster knows Trump is lying, and is only defending Trump in a way that allows astute listeners, like reporter Kessler above, to see that he isn't really defending the president, but in order to stay in the administration to keep it from doing anything even worse?

I'll raise more specific questions down below.  Here's the audio from NPR and below it my rough transcript. [Now that this is finished, I see that NPR has the transcript up there too.]

Host Rachel Martin gives background and a bit of audio from HR McMaster responding to questions from the media.  Then she introduces retired Lt. Col. John Nagl, who has known McMaster for a long time.  She asks him:

Q: What do you hear Gen. McMaster trying to do in his public explanations of the president’s actions?
A: HR is in an absolutely impossible situation. and many of us, his friends were concerned that something like this was going to happen when he took this job working for this administration.
He is a man of extraordinary integrity and honor and he’s got a president who has clearly done damage to the United States and to our relationships with our allies around the globe, and meanwhile he’s walking a very fine line around the truth, parsing his words very carefully when he makes statements defending what the president did.
Q:  Parsing his words. Do you think he’s telling the whole truth when he’s defending the president’s actions?
A:  I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I’m reminded of an early class in West Point honor code. HR took that same class.  One of the scenarios the discussed is, what happens if you’ve been invited to a dinner and the dinner was horrible, and the hostess asks, “How did you enjoy dinner?”  What we’re taught to say at that point is,  “I really enjoyed being here and the company I was in.”
That’s what I think HR is doing right now.  I think he is not answering the question he was asked and I think that he is doing so, knowing, absolutely in full cognizance of the fact that he is not telling the whole truth, but he’s being very careful not to tell lies.
Q:  Although the stakes obviously are so much higher than those of insulting a hostess of a dinner party.
A:  The stakes, at this point, and in particular with the Comey revelations that came out last night, literally the fate of the earth could be in HR McMaster’s hands at this point.  The administration is clearly in free fall and HR McMaster is exactly the man the nation needs to have at the center of things at the White House to hold to hold all the pieces together
Q: So because  you know him so well, you think that’s the calculation he made, that it’s better to be there and have to obfuscate from time to time?
A:  I obviously think he’s in an absolutely impossible position.  The president expects him to defend the indefensible.  Nobody else in the administration has the credibility that HR has, and the president is using HR’s credibility in order to try to buttress himself.  HR can’t be completely comfortable with that.  His friends and I believe that it’s worth HR giving up some of his well earned reputation for integrity.  He can be a little tarnished around the edges, we can get the Pope to give him an absolution, because, literally, the fate of the world could depend on his love of country, his judgment, his intelligence, his service in the White House at this absolutely critical time. [emphasis added]

The crux of this, as I see it, is Nagl's statements about the fate of the world.  It's the only justification he gives for McMaster 'tarnishing his reputation' by 'defending the indefensible.'
"the fate of the world could depend on his love of country, his judgment, his intelligence, his service in the White House at this absolutely critical time."
But interviewer Rachel Martin never asks Nagl what it is that McMaster can do in the White House that could change the fate of the world.  She never asks him how he can "hold all the pieces together."
  • Does Nagl think McMaster can talk Trump into being more reasonable?  
  • That he can stop him from doing terrible things?  If so, like what?  And how would he stop him?  
  • Does he think it's important to have someone like McMaster there simply as a witness?  
  • And how does lending the president his credibility help the country?   
And while Martin does say that the stakes are much higher than not insulting a dinner hostess, she doesn't pursue whether that lesson is appropriate here.  

Not insulting the dinner hostess involves not hurting one person's feelings.  It's simple human courtesy between two people that has no bigger world consequences.  

But obfuscating to the American public about a US president revealing classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, is NOT about simple human courtesies.  It is, as Nagl says, defending the indefensible.  

One last question is:  Why did NPR do this interview?  I guess I have the same questions for NPR as the ones I raised above for Nagl.  

The interview does add to my knowledge of McMaster, but why didn't Martin ask those critical, and to me obvious, questions about how exactly can McMaster help shape the fate of the world positively by being in the administration and dissembling to the press  as Nagl acknowledges he did?   
She didn't ask whether, perhaps, McMaster is overestimating his own abilities to 'hold the pieces together.'

Lots of questions here.  

Facebook Thailand Ordered To Block 131 Web Addresses

According to The Nation, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society has sent out 24 orders already and will send out 107 more as soon as they can and that they expect the url's to be blocked.
"Earlier, authorities gave Facebook until late yesterday morning to make the web pages inaccessible in Thailand while threatening legal action. However, none of the URLs were blocked after the deadline passed.

The 131 web addresses in question were deemed to have content insulting to the monarchy, threatening national security, depicting pornography or being involved in fraud.

With more than 40 million users, Thailand is among the world’s most active countries on Facebook." 
 Insulting the king has always been a serious offense in Thailand, though with the old king now gone and his son the new king, I imagine this will be a more difficult thing to enforce because the new king has offered through his wild living, plenty of things to criticize.

I found the following to be seriously inappropriate on Facebook's part:
"In response, Facebook requested an official English version of the court orders before it proceeded with blocking the addresses in Thailand."
 Can you imagine a Thai company telling a US government agency that they can't comply until they get official orders in Thai?  Facebook needs to  hire some Thai lawyers completely fluent in English.

The article quoted Facebook's official policy:
“When governments believe that something on the Internet violates their laws, they may contact companies like Facebook and ask us to restrict access to that content. When we receive such a request, we review it to determine if it puts us on notice of unlawful content. “If we determine that it does, then we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory and notify people who try to access it why it is restricted,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

However, it appears that Thailand doesn't have a lot of power to act on its orders.
"Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha admitted yesterday that his government did not have the authority to suspend Facebook’s operations in Thailand following its refusal to immediately block the URLs. . .
'All we can do is ask for cooperation from foreign countries, the private sector and Internet service providers,” the premier said. 'It’s because we have no better options.'