Tuesday, March 14, 2017

21st Century Little Red Riding Hood No Fairy Tale

Talk about a contrast twixt the haves and have nots. In a battle for survival, I'm with her. From The Guardian...

Four-year-old trekked miles in subzero Siberia to help sick grandmother

Saglana Salchak
A four-year-old girl who walked miles through the freezing Siberian wilderness to get help for her sick grandmother has been hailed as a hero in Russia’s Tuva republic, while a criminal case has been opened against her mother.

Saglana Salchak had been living with her grandparents at their remote farm deep in the taiga forest near the Mongolian border, more than 12 miles from the nearest village and five miles from their closest neighbour. 

Last month the child awoke to find that her 60-year-old grandmother was not moving. After talking with her blind grandfather, she decided to walk to the next homestead for help, according to local news. 

Taking only a box of matches in case she had to light a fire, the four-year-old set out into the early-morning darkness, where temperatures hit -34C (-29F). It took her several hours to walk the five miles along a river bank through snowdrifts. Fortunately, she did not get stuck in the snow, often chest high, or encounter any of the wolves that had at times attacked her grandparents’ livestock.
“Tuva has simply filled up with wolves,” Semyon Rubtsov, head of the regional search and rescue group, told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. “They eat the livestock – the herders moan about them. She could have easily stumbled on a pack in the darkness.”

After five gruelling miles Saglana nearly missed her neighbours’ house amid the undergrowth, and would have passed it if one of them had not spotted her. They called in medical personnel from the village, who, after checking on the girl, made the trek back to her grandparents’ place. There they discovered that the grandmother had died of a heart attack.

Saglana told Komsomolskaya Pravda she was not scared making the trip through the forest alone. “I just walked, walked and got there,” she said. She admitted, however, that she had been cold and had “really wanted to eat”.

Although she caught a cold, Saglana quickly recovered at the local hospital and is now living at a social centre, where she just celebrated her fifth birthday. Local media have declared her a hero. “You can’t [easily] impress residents of the remote Tere-Kholsky district with extreme stories about taiga life. Nonetheless, the incident several days ago amazed even the old-timers in Kungurtug, the district centre,” Tuva Online also wrote about Saglana’s feat.

Saglana’s mother and stepfather look after their own herd of horses in another part of the region. The social policy ministry offered the youngster a free trip to a sanatorium with her mother, Eleonora, when she returns from herding in May. 

But on Sunday, the Tuva investigative committee opened a criminal case against Eleonora Salchak for leaving a minor in danger. “She knew that the elderly [grandparents] lacked the ability to take measures to guarantee the child’s safety,” it said in a press release. If charged, the mother could face up to a year in prison. The committee said it was also investigating the actions of social policy officials in the girl’s district.

Sayana Mongush, an activist and journalist in the regional capital of Kyzyl, told the Guardian that it was shocking Salchak’s grandparents didn’t have any phone or internet connection, especially since defence minister and Tuva native Sergei Shoigu previously promoted archeological digs at an ancient fortress located in their district.

“Even in Soviet times, herders in Tuva had [material] privileges and radio communications,” she said. “But now in the 21st century a four-year-old child has to go by foot only because there’s no connectivity. This is nonsense, and the crime is not by the girl’s mother, but by the authorities.”
A sparsely populated republic of rugged forests, mountains and plains, Tuva is renowned for its traditional throat-singing and for ancient shamanistic religious practices, which coexist alongside Buddhism.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Price of Denial

From recent Guardian:

TVs spying on us is just the tip of the iceberg. Is Congress ready to act? | Michael E Capuano

watching TV
As the FBI director, James Comey, recently said: “There is no such thing as absolute privacy.” The newly leaked CIA files raised a few eyebrows for many reasons, including when we all learned that America’s CIA and Britain’s MI5 worked together to hack personal television sets in order to watch and listen to people in their own homes. It is important to understand that these so-called “weeping angel” programs are nothing new and not limited to governmental spy agencies – private corporations do it, too.

The same sort of intrusion has happened through your car, cellphone, cable television box, toll paying device, refrigerator, your child’s doll, and even your license plate. 
Just last month, the Federal Trade Commission fined the makers of Vizio televisions $2.2m for collecting viewing data on 11 million consumers without telling them. If you owned a Vizio TV, it could hear you even when turned off – and it could see you, too. Information was gathered and shared with retailers to refine sales techniques and better target consumers. But they are not the only ones.

Samsung has admitted that it was conducting similar spying with its televisions and recently a company selling “smart” teddy bears was exposed for collecting 2m voice recordings of children and parents. Even toys are now troves of information.

Your car collects data on your speed, whether you are using headlights, turn signals, brakes and seatbelts. Every day, public and private entities collect an unlimited amount of information about the way you spend your time – where you drove your car, what time of day you traveled, where you parked and more. If you carry your cellphone around with you, its mapping program is recording every step you take. Some refrigerators record the food you eat – so think about more than just your waistline before grabbing that late-night snack. 

None of this is a joke or an exaggeration – companies have been investing in technology capable of watching consumers in order to super-target ads and profit by selling the data collected to other retailers. In many cases, you do not know about it and have no control over it.
One international cable company filed for a US patent for a home cable box that would allow the company to watch you, listen to you, and take your temperature with infrared methods. The patent application stated that the company would be able to distinguish “ambient action … of eating, exercising, laughing, reading, sleeping, talking, humming, cleaning” and more.

The application further noted that the cable company would be able to distinguish between the acts of “cuddling, fighting, participating in a game or sporting event, and talking”. That information would then be used to deliver targeted ads to your living room. 

If data collected from the cable box indicated that someone was cleaning the kitchen, ads for products to make floors and appliances shine might show up. If data collected revealed that a couple was fighting, an advertisement associated with relationship counseling might be selected for them. 

Much of what was in the patent certainly seemed unbelievable, especially language explaining that “the device may utilize one or more terms associated with cuddling (eg, the terms romance, love, cuddle, snuggle, etc) to search for and/or select a commercial associated with cuddling (eg, a commercial for a romantic getaway vacation, a commercial for a contraceptive, a commercial for flowers, a commercial including a trailer for an upcoming romantic comedy movie, etc).” 
You may think I am indulging in hyperbole with that description, but it is taken word for word from the patent application. There is no need for exaggeration; the new reality is shocking enough. We are now learning that none of this is unbelievable any more.

All this happens without you knowing about it – without you having control over it – whether your device is on or off – without the government or company having any limits on the use of the information, the sale of the information, or how long they can keep it. You have no right to stop them, no right to control the information, and apparently no right to even know it is happening.

There is a great debate over the release of the CIA information, including whether it was legal. Regardless of the outcome of that debate, maybe one silver lining will be that America and the world wakes up about the total invasion we have allowed of every aspect of our privacy by both the government and private companies. I have filed bills over the years to protect a little of what is left of our privacy but so far, few have paid attention. Maybe, finally, we can have an open debate about how much of our lives we own and how much belongs to others.

I know I do not want my car recording every move I make, my child’s doll recording conversations, or my TV watching my wife and me cuddle.

[End of Guardian article]

[My bolds and italics. I'm just wondering if it isn't time to just sign out permanently. Moscow rules, and all that. What would Smiley say? Is it finally time to invest in tinfoil? Honestly, the old sixties adage still holds; It's always worst than we think it is. Yet we never seem to learn.]

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sometimes It Takes a Kennedy

You tell 'em, Joe. Listen and watch here

"Last night, Speaker Ryan called the GOP repeal bill 'an act of mercy.' With due respect to the Speaker, he and I must have read different scripture. The one I read taught that we are judged not by how we treat the powerful but how we care for the least among us. There is no mercy in a system that makes health care a luxury. This bill is no act of mercy. It is an act of malice."

So grateful to at last see someone brave enough to call out the false Christianity of the Republican Right Wing.  Does it take being a Kennedy to have that kind of courage?

And this piece from Daily Kos is so full of useful information it's worth forwarding to everyone you know.

I particularly like the pie chart that debunks all the selfish arguments regarding who gets subsidies and who doesn't. Guess who doesn't get any kind of government subsidy for their health insurance coverage? Here's a clue: it's not the millions of folks who believe they don't. Zero in and really study this chart. It's quite revealing, and it rather clearly reveals who and how many will suffer if Republicare has its way.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

International Women Strike Day

It's International Women's Strike for Solidarity Day... .. but this mother is certainly at work, and  I'm wondering what she got paid for putting on this amazing show for the folks at the Memphis Zoo. Watching this leaves one feeling quite the voyeur somehow,  awed and embarrassed at the same time. Why was she not given a private room, with nice soft bed of grass or something? Oh... right... must have had the new  Republican version of ACA health insurance, not the primo plan Congress gets gratis, the one our taxes pay for, but Mitch McConnell's shiny new version of what he believes is good enough for the rest of us.

I like the way she keeps gently nudging, insisting her kid get up and walk.. rings a bell.

And then there's the week in review... pretty well sums it up. Chin up, everyone.

March 7, 2017
By Jacob Rosenberg    
U.S. president Donald Trump tweeted that former president Barack Obama was a "bad (or sick) guy" who tapped his phone during the election. House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz said he had "not seen anything" that would support Trump's accusation, Republican congressman Trey Gowdy said he had no evidence of a wiretap, and FBI director James Comey called on the Justice Department to publicly reject Trump's claim, which the department did not do. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the department's head, recused himself from any investigations of Russia's involvement in the 2016 presidential election after it was reported that he had twice met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign, despite swearing under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he "did not have communications with the Russians." Vice President Mike Pence, who during the election implied that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton broke the law when she used a private email server as secretary of state, confirmed that he conducted official business as governor of Indiana using a private AOL email account, which had been hacked. Trump suggested that a series of recent bomb threats against Jewish community centers and acts of vandalism against Jewish cemeteries could have been an effort by his opponents to make his supporters "look bad," gave a speech before a joint session of Congress in which he condemned hate crimes, and rejected the notion that his senior staff should take an ethics-training course. "This is," Trump tweeted of his wiretap allegations, "Watergate."

Snap, Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, went public at $17 a share, making it the largest offering since Alibaba in 2014; Lyft reportedly sought $500 million from investors; and Travis Kalanick, the 40-year-old CEO of Uber, who is worth an estimated $6.3 billion, said he needed to "grow up" after a video surfaced of him telling a driver who complained that he had lost almost $100,000 working for the company that "some people don't like to take responsibility for their own shit." Millions of viewers spent what equates to more than a thousand years watching a live stream of a pregnant giraffe, which has not yet given birth, and the Belvedere Zoo in Tunisia announced it would close temporarily after visitors stoned a crocodile to death. A blizzard struck Hawaii, Chicago recorded its first January and February without snow in 146 years, and landslides and rainstorms contaminated the drinking water of at least 4 million people in Santiago, Chile. The World Health Organization reported that pollution kills 1.7 million children annually. In Canada's Nuvvuagittuq Greenstone Belt, scientists found fossils that may be as much as 3.77 billion years old, and in New Mexico a 99-year-old man beat a 92-year-old man in a 60-meter dash.

An intoxicated man in Austin, Texas, was arrested for allegedly "having sex with a fence" while a woman filmed him, three men at a bazaar in Pakistan were caught masturbating to the rhythm of a beating drum, and the body of a Japanese man was discovered on top of his six-ton porn-magazine collection, which he had fallen on after suffering a heart attack. A woman in Fort Pierce, Florida, found marijuana inside a couch set she bought online, the owner of a charity store in Wales discovered plans for a British nuclear sub in the briefcase of an anonymous donor, and veterinarians in Bangkok removed 915 coins from the stomach of a turtle named Piggy Bank. In the Chinese province of Jiangsu, villagers divorced en masse after discovering that they could claim more money from a government buyout of their homes if they were single. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Whose Idea Was the ACA Anyway?

Just for the record, I feel obliged to remind the Democrats of one of many arguments they might be offering the public in defense of Obamacare and as a reminder to the voters that all this posturing over health insurance by the Republican Party is a load of hooey.  That Repeal and Replace is simply a Smoke and Mirrors betrayal of their own party's  1990s Health Insurance program proposal. Apparently this has to be read word by word by the average american, in order for the clarity and truth of it to permeate the Deadened American Brain.

From a sharp minded commenter in the NY Times recently:

 Stephen Reichard 4 hours ago
It can't be said enough (and isn't said enough for reasons that utterly escape me): Obamacare is Republican health care. It was developed as a concept at the Heritage Institute in the 1990s in response to Hillary Care. It was first implemented in Massachusetts by a Republican governor, Mitt Romney. There is no Republican alternative to Obamacare because Obamacare IS the Republican alternative to Democratic healthcare which is, of course, single payer. 

I get why Republicans don't call this out: it exposes the lie that their opposition to Obama was based not on his race but on his supposed fire breathing radicalism. But why don't Democrats hammer this truth?

Why indeed, and thank you, Stephen, for reminding us that there is such a thing as a factual, verifiable history of events. Apparently the Republicans are not the only amnesiacs.

 Here'a another bright commenter, clarifying the Republican pitch that their health insurance proposal is what's needed by "consumers". (Sorry, did you miss that moment when we stopped being citizens decades ago, became "consumers" – not people, but mere ka-ching machines for the corporate state). Here's Frank:

Frank Bannister Dublin, Ireland 4 hours ago
"Freedom is the ability to buy what you want to fit your need."

So presumably if you do not have the money to buy what you need you are, by definition, not free.

Finally, there's the utter wackiness of this escapee from Saint Elizabeth's.... 

Thing is, he's not kidding.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Trump, Not So Dumb?

Don't Dismiss President Trump's Attacks on the Media as Mere Stupidity

President Trump Holds Joint Press Conference With Japanese PM Shinzo Abe
Bret Stephens delivered the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture this week at the University of California, Los Angeles. Read the full text of his remarks below:

I’m profoundly honored to have this opportunity to celebrate the legacy of Danny Pearl, my colleague at The Wall Street Journal.  My topic this evening is intellectual integrity in the age of Donald Trump. I suspect this is a theme that would have resonated with Danny.

When you work at The Wall Street Journal, the coins of the realm are truth and trust — the latter flowing exclusively from the former. When you read a story in the Journal, you do so with the assurance that immense reportorial and editorial effort has been expended to ensure that what you read is factual.  Not probably factual. Not partially factual. Not alternatively factual. I mean fundamentally, comprehensively and exclusively factual. And therefore trustworthy.

This is how we operate. This is how Danny operated. This is how he died, losing his life in an effort to nail down a story.  In the 15 years since Danny’s death, the list of murdered journalists has grown long.  Paul Klebnikov and Anna Politkovskaya in Russia.  Zahra Kazemi and Sattar Behesti in Iran.  Jim Foley and Steve Sotloff in Syria.  Five journalists in Turkey. Twenty-six in Mexico. More than 100 in Iraq.  When we honor Danny, we honor them, too.  We do more than that.
This is an undated file photo of Wall Street JournWall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl disappeared in the Pakistani port city of Karachi on Jan 23, 2002 after telling his wife he was going to interview an Islamic group leader.  AFP/Getty Images 

We honor the central idea of journalism — the conviction, as my old boss Peter Kann once said, “that facts are facts; that they are ascertainable through honest, open-minded and diligent reporting; that truth is attainable by laying fact upon fact, much like the construction of a cathedral; and that truth is not merely in the eye of the beholder.”

And we honor the responsibility to separate truth from falsehood, which is never more important than when powerful people insist that falsehoods are truths, or that there is no such thing as truth to begin with.  So that’s the business we’re in: the business of journalism. Or, as the 45th president of the United States likes to call us, the “disgusting and corrupt media.”

Some of you may have noticed that we’re living through a period in which the executive branch of government is engaged in a systematic effort to create a climate of opinion against the news business.  The President routinely describes reporting he dislikes as FAKE NEWS. The Administration calls the press “the opposition party,” ridicules news organizations it doesn’t like as business failures, and calls for journalists to be fired. Mr. Trump has called for rewriting libel laws in order to more easily sue the press.  This isn’t unprecedented in U.S. history, though you might have to go back to the Administration of John Adams to see something quite like it. And so far the rhetorical salvos haven’t been matched by legal or regulatory action. Maybe they never will be.

But the question of what Mr. Trump might yet do by political methods against the media matters a great deal less than what he is attempting to do by ideological and philosophical methods.
Ideologically, the president is trying to depose so-called mainstream media in favor of the media he likes — Breitbart News and the rest. Another way of making this point is to say that he’s trying to substitute news for propaganda, information for boosterism.

His objection to, say, the New York Times, isn’t that there’s a liberal bias in the paper that gets in the way of its objectivity, which I think would be a fair criticism. His objection is to objectivity itself. He’s perfectly happy for the media to be disgusting and corrupt — so long as it’s on his side.
But again, that’s not all the president is doing.  Consider this recent exchange he had with Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly asks:  Is there any validity to the criticism of you that you say things that you can’t back up factually, and as the President you say there are three million illegal aliens who voted and you don’t have the data to back that up, some people are going to say that it’s irresponsible for the President to say that.   To which the president replies:  Many people have come out and said I’m right.

Now many people also say Jim Morrison faked his own death. Many people say Barack Obama was born in Kenya. “Many people say” is what’s known as an argumentum ad populum. If we were a nation of logicians, we would dismiss the argument as dumb.  We are not a nation of logicians.

I think it’s important not to dismiss the president’s reply simply as dumb. We ought to assume that it’s darkly brilliant — if not in intention then certainly in effect. The president is responding to a claim of fact not by denying the fact, but by denying the claim that facts are supposed to have on an argument.   He isn’t telling O’Reilly that he’s got his facts wrong. He’s saying that, as far as he is concerned, facts, as most people understand the term, don’t matter; that they are indistinguishable from, and interchangeable with, opinion; and that statements of fact needn’t have any purchase against a man who is either sufficiently powerful to ignore them or sufficiently shameless to deny them — or, in his case, both.

If some of you in this room are students of political philosophy, you know where this argument originates. This is a version of Thrasymachus’s argument in Plato’s Republic that justice is the advantage of the stronger and that injustice “if it is on a large enough scale, is stronger, freer, and more masterly than justice.”  Substitute the words “truth” and “falsehood” for “justice” and “injustice,” and there you have the Trumpian view of the world. If I had to sum it up in a single sentence, it would be this: Truth is what you can get away with.  If you can sell condos by claiming your building is 90% occupied when it’s only 20% occupied, well, then—it’s 90% occupied. If you can convince a sufficient number of people that you really did win the popular vote, or that your inauguration crowds were the biggest—well then, what do the statistical data and aerial photographs matter?

Now, we could have some interesting conversations about why this is happening—and why it seems to be happening all of a sudden.  Today we have “dis-intermediating” technologies such as Twitter, which have cut out the media as the middleman between politicians and the public. Today, just 17% of adults aged 18-24 read a newspaper daily, down from 42% at the turn of the century. Today there are fewer than 33,000 full-time newsroom employees, a drop from 55,000 just 20 years ago.  When Trump attacks the news media, he’s kicking a wounded animal.
But the most interesting conversation is not about why Donald Trump lies. Many public figures lie, and he’s only a severe example of a common type.

The interesting conversation concerns how we come to accept those lies.  Nearly 25 years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the great scholar and Democratic Senator from New York, coined the phrase, “defining deviancy down.” His topic at the time was crime, and how American society had come to accept ever-increasing rates of violent crime as normal.

“We have been re-defining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the ‘normal’ level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard,” Moynihan wrote.

You can point to all sorts of ways in which this redefinition of deviancy has also been the story of our politics over the past 30 years, a story with a fully bipartisan set of villains.  I personally think we crossed a rubicon in the Clinton years, when three things happened: we decided that some types of presidential lies didn’t matter; we concluded that “character” was an over-rated consideration when it came to judging a president; and we allowed the lines between political culture and celebrity culture to become hopelessly blurred.  But whatever else one might say about President Clinton, what we have now is the crack-cocaine version of that.   If a public figure tells a whopping lie once in his life,  it’ll haunt him into his grave. If he lies morning, noon and night, it will become almost impossible to remember any one particular lie. Outrage will fall victim to its own ubiquity. It’s the same truth contained in Stalin’s famous remark that the death of one man is a tragedy but the death of a million is a statistic.

One of the most interesting phenomena during the presidential campaign was waiting for Trump to say that one thing that would surely break the back of his candidacy.  Would it be his slander against Mexican immigrants? Or his slur about John McCain’s record as a POW? Or his lie about New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11? Or his attacks on Megyn Kelly, on a disabled New York Times reporter, on a Mexican-American judge? Would it be him tweeting quotations from Benito Mussolini, or his sly overtures to David Duke and the alt-right? Would it be his unwavering praise of Vladimir Putin? Would it be his refusal to release his tax returns, or the sham that seems to been perpetrated on the saps who signed up for his Trump U courses? Would it be the tape of him with Billy Bush?   None of this made the slightest difference. On the contrary, it helped him. Some people became desensitized by the never-ending assaults on what was once quaintly known as “human decency.” Others seemed to positively admire the comments as refreshing examples of personal authenticity and political incorrectness.

Shameless rhetoric will always find a receptive audience with shameless people. Donald Trump’s was the greatest political strip-tease act in U.S. political history: the dirtier he got, the more skin he showed, the more his core supporters liked it.   Abraham Lincoln, in his first inaugural address, called on Americans to summon “the better angels of our nature.” Donald Trump’s candidacy, and so far his presidency, has been Lincoln’s exhortation in reverse.

Here’s a simple truth about a politics of dishonesty, insult and scandal: It’s entertaining. Politics as we’ve had it for most of my life has, with just a few exceptions, been distant and dull.  Now it’s all we can talk about. If you like Trump, his presence in the White House is a daily extravaganza of sticking it to pompous elites and querulous reporters. If you hate Trump, you wake up every day with some fresh outrage to turn over in your head and text your friends about.  Whichever way, it’s exhilarating. Haven’t all of us noticed that everything feels speeded up, more vivid, more intense and consequential? One of the benefits of an alternative-facts administration is that fiction can take you anywhere.

Earlier today, at his press conference, the president claimed his administration is running like a “fine-tuned machine.” In actual fact, he just lost his Labor Secretary nominee, his National Security Adviser was forced out in disgrace, and the Intelligence Community is refusing to fully brief the president for fear he might compromise sources and methods.  But who cares? Since when in Washington has there been a presidential press conference like that? Since when has the denial of reality been taken to such a bald-faced extreme?  At some point, it becomes increasingly easy for people to mistake the reality of the performance for reality itself. If Trump can get through a press conference like that without showing a hint of embarrassment, remorse or misgiving—well, then, that becomes a new basis on which the president can now be judged.

To tell a lie is wrong. But to tell a lie with brass takes skill. Ultimately, Trump’s press conference will be judged not on some kind of Olympic point system, but on whether he “won”—which is to say, whether he brazened his way through it. And the answer to that is almost certainly yes.
So far, I’ve offered you three ideas about how it is that we have come to accept the president’s behavior.

The first is that we normalize it, simply by becoming inured to constant repetition of the same bad behavior.  The second is that at some level it excites and entertains us. By putting aside our usual moral filters—the ones that tell us that truth matters, that upright conduct matters, that things ought to be done in a certain way—we have been given tickets to a spectacle, in which all you want to do is watch.  And the third is that we adopt new metrics of judgment, in which politics becomes more about perceptions than performance—of how a given action is perceived as being perceived. If a reporter for the New York Times says that Trump’s press conference probably plays well in Peoria, then that increases the chances that it will play well in Peoria.

Let me add a fourth point here: our tendency to rationalize.  One of the more fascinating aspects of last year’s presidential campaign was the rise of a class of pundits I call the “TrumpXplainers.” For instance, Trump would give a speech or offer an answer in a debate that amounted to little more than a word jumble.  But rather than quote Trump, or point out that what he had said was grammatically and logically nonsensical, the TrumpXplainers would tell us what he had allegedly meant to say. They became our political semioticians, ascribing pattern and meaning to the rune-stones of Trump’s mind.  If Trump said he’d get Mexico to pay for his wall, you could count on someone to provide a complex tariff scheme to make good on the promise. If Trump said that we should not have gone into Iraq but that, once there, we should have “taken the oil,” we’d have a similarly high-flown explanation as to how we could engineer this theft.

A year ago, when he was trying to explain his idea of a foreign policy to the New York Times’s David Sanger, the reporter asked him whether it didn’t amount to a kind of “America First policy”—a reference to the isolationist and anti-Semitic America First Committee that tried to prevent U.S. entry into World War II. Trump clearly had never heard of the group, but he liked the phrase and made it his own. And that’s how we got the return of America First.

More recently, I came across this headline in the conservative Washington Times: “How Trump’s ‘disarray’ may be merely a strategy,” by Wesley Pruden, the paper’s former editor-in-chief. In his view, the president’s first disastrous month in office is, in fact, evidence of a refreshing openness to dissent, reminiscent of Washington and Lincoln’s cabinet of rivals. Sure.  Overall, the process is one in which explanation becomes rationalization, which in turn becomes justification. Trump says X. What he really means is Y. And while you might not like it, he’s giving voice to the angers and anxieties of Z. Who, by the way, you’re not allowed to question or criticize, because anxiety and anger are their own justifications these days.

Watching this process unfold has been particularly painful for me as a conservative columnist. I find myself in the awkward position of having recently become popular among some of my liberal peers—precisely because I haven’tchanged my opinions about anything.  By contrast, I’ve become suddenly unpopular among some of my former fans on the right—again, because I’ve stuck to my views. It is almost amusing to be accused of suffering from something called “Trump Derangement Syndrome” simply because I feel an obligation to raise my voice against, say, the president suggesting a moral equivalency between the U.S. and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The most painful aspect of this has been to watch people I previously considered thoughtful and principled conservatives give themselves over to a species of illiberal politics from which I once thought they were immune.  In his 1953 masterpiece, “The Captive Mind,” the Polish poet and dissident Czeslaw Milosz analyzed the psychological and intellectual pathways through which some of his former colleagues in Poland’s post-war Communist regime allowed themselves to be converted into ardent Stalinists. In none of the cases that Milosz analyzed was coercion the main reason for the conversion.  They wanted to believe. They were willing to adapt. They thought they could do more good from the inside. They convinced themselves that their former principles didn’t fit with the march of history, or that to hold fast to one’s beliefs was a sign of priggishness and pig-headedness. They felt that to reject the new order of things was to relegate themselves to irrelevance and oblivion. They mocked their former friends who refused to join the new order as morally vain reactionaries. They convinced themselves that, brutal and capricious as Stalinism might be, it couldn’t possibly be worse than the exploitative capitalism of the West.
I fear we are witnessing a similar process unfold among many conservative intellectuals on the right. It has been stunning to watch a movement that once believed in the benefits of free trade and free enterprise merrily give itself over to a champion of protectionism whose economic instincts recall the corporatism of 1930s Italy or 1950s Argentina. It is no less stunning to watch people who once mocked Obama for being too soft on Russia suddenly discover the virtues of Trump’s “pragmatism” on the subject.

And it is nothing short of amazing to watch the party of onetime moral majoritarians, who spent a decade fulminating about Bill Clinton’s sexual habits, suddenly find complete comfort with the idea that character and temperament are irrelevant qualifications for high office.  The mental pathways by which the new Trumpian conservatives have made their peace with their new political master aren’t so different from Milosz’s former colleagues.  There’s the same desperate desire for political influence; the same belief that Trump represents a historical force to which they ought to belong; the same willingness to bend or discard principles they once considered sacred; the same fear of seeming out-of-touch with the mood of the public; the same tendency to look the other way at comments or actions that they cannot possibly justify; the same belief that you do more good by joining than by opposing; the same Manichean belief that, if Hillary Clinton had been elected, the United States would have all-but ended as a country.

This is supposed to be the road of pragmatism, of turning lemons into lemonade. I would counter that it’s the road of ignominy, of hitching a ride with a drunk driver.

So, then, to the subject that brings me here today: Maintaining intellectual integrity in the age of Trump.  When Judea wrote me last summer to ask if I’d be this year’s speaker, I got my copy of Danny’s collected writings, “At Home in the World,” and began to read him all over again. It brought back to me the fact that, the reason we honor Danny’s memory isn’t that he’s a martyred journalist. It’s that he was a great journalist.  Let me show you what I mean. Here’s something Danny wrote in February 2001, almost exactly a year before his death, from the site of an earthquake disaster in the Indian town of Anjar.  What is India’s earthquake zone really like? It smells. It reeks. You can’t imagine the odor of several hundred bodies decaying for five days as search teams pick away at slabs of crumbled buildings in this town. Even if you’ve never smelled it before, the brain knows what it is, and orders you to get away. After a day, the nose gets stuffed up in self-defense. But the brain has registered the scent, and picks it up in innocent places: lip balm, sweet candy, stale breath, an airplane seat.

What stands out for me in this passage is that it shows that Danny was a writer who observed with all his senses. He saw. He listened. He smelled. He bore down. He reflected. He understood that what the reader had to know about Anjar wasn’t a collection of statistics; it was the visceral reality of a massive human tragedy. And he was able to express all this in language that was compact, unadorned, compelling and deeply true.  George Orwell wrote, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” Danny saw what was in front of his nose.

We each have our obligations to see what’s in front of one’s nose, whether we’re reporters, columnists, or anything else. This is the essence of intellectual integrity.  Not to look around, or beyond, or away from the facts, but to look straight at them, to recognize and call them for what they are, nothing more or less. To see things as they are before we re-interpret them into what we’d like them to be. To believe in an epistemology that can distinguish between truth and falsity, facts and opinions, evidence and wishes. To defend habits of mind and institutions of society, above all a free press, which preserve that epistemology. To hold fast to a set of intellectual standards and moral convictions that won’t waver amid changes of political fashion or tides of unfavorable opinion. To speak the truth irrespective of what it means for our popularity or influence.

The legacy of Danny Pearl is that he died for this. We are being asked to do much less. We have no excuse not to do it.
Thank you.

(The author of this speech is a conservative journalist; many thanks to Tom and Gill for calling this wonderful speech to my attention.)