Friday, June 26, 2020

The wheels on the bus come off, off, off, all through the town. Yeah, you, Zuckerberg. You too, Trump.

Whose bus this is I do not know. But let's check to see who's under it.
Let’s start with Mark Zuckerberg. Shortly before The Crank’s beautiful girlfriend died — it’s coming up on ten years now — we went to see a movie called The Social Network. It didn’t have much of a plot, at least as I remember it. 

A pair of twins attending Harvard, the Winklevoss twins (referred to collectively as the Winklevi) start what’s essentially an online campus directory of students. They need a coder to get their directory idea working, and hear there’s a kid on campus named Mark Zuckerberg who’s a whiz at it. He not only codes what eventually becomes Facebook, he also essentially steals the business from the Winklevi, and six years later he’s a billionaire — proof that crime can indeed pay, as long as it’s white collar crime. And as we all know, Zuckerberg lived, at least until recently, happily ever after.

Except not with his original Harvard girlfriend. The best scene in the movie, for my money, was when the original girlfriend dumped him, telling him “you’re an asshole.” Quote unquote. Even ten years ago, there was a faint murmur of approval and a smattering of applause in the movie theater.

Cut to 2020. Facebook at the beginning of June had a market capitalization of at least $350 billion smackers, which ain’t beanbag. But it was attracting people from bad neighborhoods, who were posting some pretty foul stuff on the walls. Holocaust denials. Donald Trump’s palpable lies. Racist screeds. You name it.

Lies, slime, and platitudes

And Zuckerberg permitted it, in 2018 explaining the dissemination of all this anti-social slime with platitudinous claptrap. “Facebook is an idealistic and optimistic company,” he told Congress with a straight face. He blathered on about “all the good that connecting people could do.” 

But then he added, it was clear that “we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well.” He singled out “fake news,” and also “foreign interference in elections and hate speech, as well as data privacy.” 

He next put all the blame on himself (“it was my mistake and I’m sorry.”) Here’s the whole concocted mea culpa in two minutes and nineteen seconds, a masterpiece of PR crisis management that turned out to have about as much sincerity behind it as a pit viper inviting a mouse to come over to the snake pit for a friendly dinner party.

If you ever doubt that Zuckerberg was full of runny reptile manure, all you have to do is watch Congresswoman Alexandria Occasio Cortez questioning Zuckerberg — a year later! — on the political lies, hate material and misinformation that continued to populate Facebook.

AOC slices and dices Zuckerberg like a turnip that fell into a food processor. His nervous, stumbling answers — clearly the crisis management team failed to rehearse him enough this time — unmistakably indicate that he had done nothing, or at least precious little, to fix the threat to democracy that his multi-billion dollar business had become.

But now somebody is fixing Zuckerberg royally, and evidently Zuckerberg didn’t see it coming. 

Forget the “virtual walkout” by his own disgruntled employees. That’s small potatoes. Much bigger, the Anti-Defamation League has issued an open letter to rebut the hate speech on Facebook. In so doing, it joined the NAACP and other anti-hate groups. And advertisers have been responding. As the old saying goes, they’re staying away in droves.

Among the advertisers who’ve decided to take a hike out of Facebook are The North Face, Patagonia, REI, Ben & Jerry’s Eddie Bauer, Magnolia Pictures, Verizon, Uniliver (with a whole stableful of iconic brands), and Honda.

The wheels are coming off, off, off Zuckerberg’s bus. (And it will be interesting to see how long a link to this blog piece stays posted on Facebook. But never mind that. ) Betcha that within six months Zuckerberg either capitulates, resigns, or loses a few billion dollars worth of value for his stockholders.

Tulsa tells Trump
to go take a hike

Meanwhile, Donald Trump may also be teetering on the edge of a comeuppance. His underpopulated Tulsa rally left him boasting about himself to thousands of empty seats, while school kids punked him by reserving tickets and never showing up to use them. His poll numbers are going down like a sinker attached to a flounder hook. Photographs have appeared of him looking like an overweight actor trying out for the lead in Death of a Salesman.

I’m too much of a pessimist to predict that this is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump. On the other hand, the wheels on his bus really do seem to be coming off, off, off. And when that happens, it’s not only hard to keep moving forward, it's even difficult to throw anybody under the bus.

So we’ve all got a few things to hope for now. 

Update: As of the morning of June 29th, Diageo, Starbucks, Jim Beam and Pepsi had joined in terminating their Facebook advertising, according to Advertising Age, thus rendering Zuckerberg $7.2 billion less rich personally than he had been a week ago. Hey Mark, seven billion here, seven billion there, and pretty soon you'll be trying to scrape by on your last five billion. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

About those West Point cadets, called back to campus to risk their health (and possibly their lives) listening to Donald Trump admire himself:

The cadets who selflessly risked their lives to put up with Trump have earned the admiration and sympathy of every thinking American.

But the cadet who had the imagination to raise the morale of so many by wearing that T-shirt, and the formidable courage to wear it knowing full well the ruinous consequences of getting caught with it under his or her uniform....that cadet will one day be a five-star general.

WHOOPS!  I am red-faced. Turns out, according to Snopes, that the cadet wearing this T-shirt exists only in a photoshopped cloud.
Serves me right for not having checked on this before I ran it. There's an apocryphal story about a newspaper city editor — or perhaps a story about an apocryphal newspaper city editor — who sternly advised his young reporters, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out."

But worse than the loss of face is the loss of faith. I had hoped that somewhere among the young people who will one day lead this nation, there was an incipient general who would not just go with the flow whenever Donald Trump unzips to urinate.

Alas, I may have been wrong about the faith as well as the fact. In which case, further alas, we are all doomed.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Rachel Maddow and Mark Zuckerberg separated at birth? Plus a not-so-sly Fox and cowardly Mad Men.

Rachel's Evil Twin
NEW YORK (Cranky News Service):- The New York Crank’s crack investigative news team, (consisting of me, when I have the time for it) have determined that Rachel Maddow has an evil twin, who is none other than Mark Zuckerberg.

“Using the most finely-honed facial recognition software available,  which is to say our own eyes, we have compared Zuckerberg and Maddow numerous times and have reached the inescapable conclusion that the two must be twins,” the Crank team reported.

However, the Crank investigative team rejects the rumor that Maddow, a good-humored progressive commentator on MSNBC by night, undergoes a chemically-induced Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation after her show and emerges each morning as the supposedly-naive-but-truly-evil Zuckerberg — undermining confidence in the news by permitting Donald Trump and others to propagate falsehoods about people and current events on Facebook.

“Maddow has a genuine sense of humor, even about grave matters,” the Crank investigative team reported. “Zuckerberg, on the other hand, wouldn’t know a joke if it bit off his funnybone.”

In fact, the Crank team said, if Zuckerberg were called out for not laughing, ever, he would probably insincerely stare straight ahead and say, “We’ll just have to try harder to recognize jokes and laugh at them next time.”

The quick sly fox 
jumps over Photoshop
and snares itself

The following is lifted from Variety, the show business news organ:

Fox News has removed a digitally altered photo that claimed to be from protests in Seattle when it was actually a combination of pictures from different cities. 
On Friday, Fox News posted a photo of a man holding a rifle in front of a store with broken windows. Another picture showed a burning car and store with a person running down the street with the caption “Crazy Town.” It was featured alongside an article about protests in Seattle, but the photo was actually from St. Paul, Minn., taken on May 30, according to The New York Times, CNN and The Seattle Times Fox News removed the photos after several inquiries by The Seattle Times, which called the incident “a clear violation of ethical standards for news organizations.”
A clear ethical violation? By Fox? What an unexpected surprise! I am shocked, shocked!

Mad men to news media:
"Let's you be brave."

Never underestimate the cowardice of some of the people who make advertising decisions for a living. 

Turns out that some advertisers don’t want their brands appearing in a medium that reports on Black Lives Matter protests because, umm, well you know. Those people.

But if the explanation for why you can’t sell detergent or stock market guidance in a space where BLM gets mentioned is a bit fuzzy, the mechanism for only advertising on news about happy people with happy problems is razor sharp, so watch your fingers.

The trade paper Advertising Age reports:
Content that contains a blocked keyword is automatically excluded from programmatic buys, which means publishers lose out on ad revenue, forcing them to choose between coverage of important events or coverage that pays the bills. 
The lists also perpetuate stereotypes—that content relevant to black people is controversial—and algorithms propagate words from list to list, compounding the problem. 
Most news media try to cover the news anyway. That’s brave.

But the wonderful makers of America’s many fine products? Not so brave.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Gee Officer Krupke, Krup You!

Somebody with a formidable sense of irony turned a little song that I listened to over and over again as a four-year-old into a video packed with tons of unspoken social commentary. Listen (and watch) anyway. Then we’ll meet again on the other side of the music.

So listen up. I'm certifiably a doddering geezer, but when I was a kid, this song, recorded and played on a 78 rpm shellac record, was practically my national anthem. It taught naive little me that the policeman was my friend. And, perhaps because I’m white and I was a cute kid, he was. I did get lost once, in Coney Island, at the age of five. And I did walk up to the nearest policeman. And he did indeed help me find my frantic uncle, who lost me on the crowded boardwalk.

It took a while for me to learn that the real world of grownups, particularly grownups of color, is a lot less rosy than I imagined as a little kid.

Bad apples, barrels, and cops

Y'see, a funny thing happened in the past few weeks, on the way toward exposing the bad apples that spoil the cop barrel. All the apples have begun spoiling sympathetically, and at a fearsome clip. The examples of police brutality, police sadism, and (pun intended) flatfooted police stupidity proliferate at warp speed. 

It’s not just cops shooting at people. It’s not even just male cops. For example, in San Antonio recently,  a woman, Natalie Simms was sitting on a curbstone waiting for her boyfriend when the cops came by. Well, clearly, by some lame brained logic that only a cop could understand, she had to be hiding drugs somewhere. Otherwise, why would she be sitting there? So a female police officer was summoned to search her.

A pat-down revealed nothing, so naturally, the cops concluded she had to be hiding the drugs (What drugs? On the basis of what rational probable cause?)…where was I? She had to be hiding the drugs in her vagina.

So the lady copy reached up there, felt around between the woman’s labia and among her pubic hair for a while, found a really, really suspicious string...and then yanked out a bloody Tampax. 

And when that search revealed nothing more than blood and  soggy cotton, the cop did an anal search next. Which yielded…surprise! Nada!

A cop can't be too suspicious
— or too stupid

And all this was happening on the street, with pedestrians passing by.

What was the lady cop thinking? Well here it is, in her own words, as reported by Insider. (Thanks for the tipoff, Bonnie Loewenstein.)

She claimed she needed to conduct the search because "you don't know what they have. I mean, they stick all kinds of stuff."

And because dumb, if not dumber-er, seems to be a a prerequisite for admission to everybody’s Police Academy these days, the police officer’s actions did not violate the department’s policies and were described as “exceeds expectations.” 

Ya think?

Trump shows us
how to do calculus

Then we have Donald Trump, Boy Electronics Genius, who is now trying to peddle the notion that that 75 year old man in Buffalo who got pushed over on the sidewalk and left unconscious and bleeding from his ears, by a platoon of cops on a mission to roust a couple of demonstrators, must be ANTIFA because…er, umm, uhhh…well, he just must have been. 

And furthermore, the old guy must be some kind of electronics whiz who was using a “scanner” (although it looks an awful lot like a cell phone to me) to black out police equipment. Trump knows this because umm, err, ahh, well, he just does. 

And furthermore, with his unerring ability  to do complex calculus problems in his head, Trump was able  conclude that the guy “fell harder than he was pushed…Could be a set up?”

Right, and the old guy deliberately fell on his head, gave himself a concussion, and deliberately bled from the ears, too. Don’t we all pull that trick when we want attention?

More post-Minneapolis cop mayhem here.

No wonder the cops think they can get away with murder.

No nincompoops wanted

As for what to do about the cops, I’m not sure. But I think I’d start all police academy admissions exams with an IQ test. Anyone scoring at "moron" or below would have to retake the exam.

The IQ test should be followed by a mandatory essay question, “What are cops for?” The long answer is in The New Republic.

And here’s a briefer, but far more digestible answer. Forgive the all-white cast. It's from another time, but the sentiment is still valid:

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Police brutality, Donald Trump, and the shaming of America

It is too late to say, as I did only about a week ago, that Donald Trump is about to wreck this nation. He has already finished us off, bankrupting us socially, morally, and diplomatically. Our nation's actual financial bankruptcy is probably not far behind, but by the time it happens, it probably won’t even matter any more. We are already pariahs in the eyes of the civilized world.

Even a mere one hundred days ago, who could have an imagined a nation of Americans, trapped in their homes — by a pandemic that worsened while the White House chose for weeks to pretend wasn’t happening? And now we're also trapped by curfews that make us criminals for stepping out of our own homes in the evening. Or even for sitting on our own porches.

And who could have imagined us turning on television or our computers and telephones to see four policemen nonchalantly and brazenly murder someone, in full public view, with several cameras recording their crime? The murderous sadists took their victim's life by slow, torturous, strangulation, taunting him to get up if he didn’t want to be strangled, even as they pinned him to the street so that he couldn’t possibly get up.

This after arresting him because he may or may not have tried to spend a $20 bill that may or may not have been counterfeit.

The brutal evidence

For some reason blogger won't upload the video. But it's worth the detour and the time it takes to see it here in all its stark horror.

It was not surprising that the reaction went national. In recent years we have been exposed to waves of murders of Black people for “crimes” that ranged, essentially, from jogging while Black to selling loose cigarettes while Black, to sleeping at home while Black. Less expected was the counter-reaction of rampaging police wantonly attacking protesters, bystanders and the press, that followed in short order. The brutal police reaction has gravely compounded the problem

In Washington, D.C., police suddenly barraged with rubber bullets and tear gas, and then charged with swinging shields and batons into a park full of legally-assembled and peaceful protestors, wantonly injuring whomever stood in their way. This included an Australian news crew whose cameraman was slammed in the ribs and stomach and then the face by a policeman, while the woman who had already been struck by rubber bullets, got whacked with a police billy club. 

It turned out that the President's address, which boiled down to his authoritarian opinion, worthy of Benito Mussolini, that the people of the United States who protest lawfully must be "dominated," was only part of why he wanted the protesters cleared out. Trump also wanted to head to a church adjacent to the park for a photo op of himself waving a Bible, and he didn’t want the annoyance of protestors screwing up his concocted pious photo op. The Episcopal Bishop of Washington D.C., as you've seen if you've watched the video above, was infuriated.

Worldwide disgust 
with the USA

And now the international level of loathing for Donald Trump’s America has exploded. Take the attack of the thug cops against the young Australian newswoman. Politico reports:
The Australian government has asked its embassy in Washington to investigate an incident of violence against an Australian news crew by U.S. law enforcement that transpired during efforts to disperse peaceful protesters and enable President Donald Trump’s photo opportunity in front of a church near the White House.
Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne confirmed the formal request for the probe in an interview Tuesday with ABC Radio National, saying she is seeking counsel from embassy officials “on how we would go about registering Australia’s strong concerns with the responsible local authorities” in the U.S. capital.
Meanwhile, also from one of our oldest and most loyal allies, comes an explosion of disgusted public opinion. “Strong concern” be damned. Our former allies are furious enough to be turning on us in rage. Said one Twitter commentator:

I watched this live. In a country like Australia without a gun culture & where we learn about the rest of the world & our place in it, this is truly frightening. We can call it as we see it. The USA is descending into martial law. Next stop: Dictatorship.

And this, which sums it all up:
Replying to 
This is what Australian troops dying in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan bought us hey.

Nor has the disgust with the United States been limited to just one ally. Robin Wright in The New Yorker reports: 
The outrage about the lack of decency and the American double standard has now gone global in everyday life, including sport. In Germany, where a soccer league recently became the first in Europe to resume play (albeit without fans), four players individually expressed their anger in matches over the weekend. After scoring his first career hat trick, Jadon Sancho, of Borussia Dortmund, pulled off his yellow shirt to reveal another shirt underneath, with a handwritten message in black letters: “Justice for George Floyd.” He was willing to take a yellow card for misconduct, for playing politics on the field. He later tweeted, about scoring, “A bittersweet moment personally as there are more important things going on in the world today that we must address and help make a change.” His teammate Achraf Hakimi followed suit after he scored, later in the game. In another match, a player took a knee after scoring, the same symbolic move made famous by the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. What is striking about the protest signs and the body language, whatever country they’re in, is that they are almost all in English or use symbols from the American experience. The message in so many lands—that America has failed its people—is meant for American ears.
The protests reflect a broader global despair about the failure of the American experiment—and what that means for the rest of the world. “People all over the world understand that their own fights for human rights, for equality and fairness, will become so much more difficult to win if we are going to lose America as the place where ‘I have a dream’ is a real and universal political program,” Wolfgang Ischinger, the former German Ambassador to Washington and the current chairman of the Munich Security Conference, told me. “Let’s hope the demonstrations all over the world will help remind Washington that U.S. soft power is a unique asset, setting America apart from other great powers—from China, Russia, and even from Europe. It would be tragic if the Trump Administration turned a huge opportunity for the U.S. into a moral abdication.”
In Africa, U.S. diplomats have scrambled to counter the damage to America’s image over the past week. A prominent media entrepreneur in the Democratic Republic of the Congo directed a scathing tweet to Mike Hammer, the U.S. Ambassador: “Dear ambassador, your country is shameful. Proud America, which went through everything from segregation to the election of Barack Obama, still hasn’t conquered the demons of racism. How many black people must be killed by white police officers before authorities react seriously?”
For that matter, Donald Trump’s destruction of the nation has not gone unnoticed by those who are not our friends. The New Yorker continues:
America’s rivals are exploiting the growing U.S. unrest for their own goals—and to justify their own policies. In China, the editor of the Global Times cynically tweeted, “I want to ask Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Pompeo: Should Beijing support protests in the U.S., like you glorified rioters in Hong Kong?” Over the past week, Trump and Pompeo have issued sharp public condemnations of China for its new security law allowing crackdowns on months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. In Russia, Vladimir Putin’s Foreign Ministry lambasted “systemic problems in human rights” in the United States. “This incident is far from the first in a series of lawless conduct and unjustified violence from U.S. law enforcement,” the ministry said, in a statement. “American police commit such high-profile crimes all too often.” 

Already, some Americans I know are wondering if it isn’t time to let this ship sink under the weight of its own sudden turn toward authoritarianism and get the hell out. Some mention Canada. Others New Zealand. One friend talks about emigrating to Iceland. Iceland!

As for myself, I harbor the fantasy that Donald Trump and some of his closest aides will meet the same fate that another unconscionable dictator who brutalized his people and encouraged their brutalization by government forces met.